Review by Holli Harms
20 October 2016
Theatre is hard.
It’s a collaboration of people – with ideas and personalities and different ways of working. Bringing it all together and creating a cohesive production is difficult.
Chekhov is hard.
His nuances, his undertones, are so subtle and delicate that they can be missed, or worse pushed, forced and turned into a mess.
The Roundabout’s production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD, as part of their 50th anniversary, is one of the pushed messes.
From the acting to the sets, it all feels forced: forced laughter and joviality, forced intimacies, forced pratfalls, forced “Calder like” mobiles hanging in the air (to represent the Cherry Orchard. What can I say).
The cast feels so disconnected it is as if they had never seen one another until this very moment on stage. All of them are dancing as fast as they can to entertain but no one is listening or supporting one another.
Diane Lane was quoted as saying, “As a cast – we are connected, like an umbilical cord between us.” Unfortunately for us the umbilical cord has fallen away the second they hit the stage. The actors may be personally connected, but the characters they portray are not.
Now I love slapstick. I do, but too much of it and forced, disconnected, warbled slapstick is yet another push to the audience. And there is plenty of slapstick in this production not to mention a guy in a chicken suit (yup). No one laughed when he entered.
The story (for those who don’t know) is about Madame Ranevskaya (played by the lovely Diane Lane) coming back to her home in Russia’s countryside, because she is about to lose the home she so adores, as well as her beloved cherry orchard. She has squandered her money on love and generosity, ignoring that there is a bottom to her wealth.
In the end it is the former serf to the land, Lopahkin, (Harold Perrlineau) who purchases the house and orchard. Lopakhin says, “My family were slaves on this land and now it’s mine,” and then he dances. He dances a modern crazy, dance that is, once again, not connected to anything else in the play. There is a lot of dancing and running around and THINGS done to fill space, – a waving of the arms.
The perpetual student, Trofimov (played well by Kyle Beltran), gives the new landowner Lopakhin constructive criticism, telling Lopahkin that he is always waving his arms in the air with all the “work” that he does and is not able to truly live. From what I saw, the whole production was waving its arms in the air.
I only spout my disappointments because I really wanted to be wowed by the production. I had expectations. An adaptation by Stephen Karam, with a stellar cast, all appeared to point to a good time at the theatre. This adaptation does have its moments, but those moments become just that, moments drowning in a two hour and fifteen minute production.
There are performances that must be singled out. Harold Perrilneau as Lopahkin is magnificent. A character most often despised is here a sympathetic mess of hope. His desire to be more than his father, more than his ancestors is deftly played. Celia Keenan-Bolger as Varya, the some times love interest of Lopahkin, is clarity and simplicity and heart breaking beauty. The two of them in one of the final scenes of the play had me wishing more of the play had been this. Diane Lane as Madame Ranevskaya in her final good bye to the house and orchard a moment of quiet pain. I was brought to tears.
And lastly, the consummate Joel Grey in the very last moment of the play shows us a heart and soul and humor as we watch his body contort itself in a way only a master of depth and movement is capable.
"Though it stars that fine actress Diane Lane, is staged by the rising British director Simon Godwin and features a new adaptation by the seriously gifted young dramatist Stephen Karam ('The Humans'), this frenzied, flashy take on one family’s mortgage crisis may be the most clueless interpretation of Chekhov I have seen. And, yes, that includes high school, college and community theater productions."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Pretty much everything falls flat in the case of the vapid new Broadway revival of Anton Chekhov’s classic tragicomedy about a family on the edge of collapse."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"In the end, by stylizing Chekhov's world and rendering cultural details abstractly, the human stakes and basic relationships are drained of power. The Cherry Orchard is still an odd play and can survive harder ax blows, but this attempt is just so much peeled bark."
David Cote for Time Out New York
"Only Donald Holder's muted lighting strikes a tone that consistently makes sense, bringing surges of warmth, expressive feeling and straining vitality. Those qualities are called for in the drama but seldom summoned in this dull, misconceived production."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Diane Lane takes her shot in the Roundabout Theater Company’s Broadway revival of Chekhov’s most beloved play — and proves to be engaging, if not remarkable. Not that anyone really has a chance to shine in director Simon Godwin’s shapeless production."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...