Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Cherry Orchard"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


by Anton Chekhov,
in a new translation by Richard Nelson
directed by Nicholas Martin

Lopakin, Yermolay Alekseich, a merchant … Will LeBow
Dunyasha, a maid … Jessica Dickey
Yephikhodov, Semyon Panteleevich, a clerk … Jeremy Beck
Ranevskaya, Lyubov Andreevna (Lyuba), a landowner … Kate Burton
Anya, her daughter … Jessica Rothenberg
Gaev, Leonid Andreevich (Lenya), her brother … Mark Blum
Varya, her adopted daughter … Sarah Hudnut
Pishchik, Boris Borisovich Semeonov-Pischik, a landowner … Jeremiah Kissel
Carlotta Ivanova, a governess … Joyce Van Patten
Yasha, a young footman … Gene Farber
Firs, an old servant … Dick Latessa
Trofimov, Petya Sergeevich, a student … Enver Gjokaj
A Tramp … Robert Bonotto
The Station Master … Patrick Lynch

Guests; Servants:

Colin Blattel; Julia Coe; Jessica Grant; Julie Kilpatrick;
Julie Kun; Dan Lovley; Patrick Lynch; Alex Wise

Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece THE CHERRY ORCHARD, where a once-great Russian family loses its estate through its boredom and ennui, is also his swansong: Mr. Chekhov was dying at the time of its composition and when you think ‘Chekhovian’, chances are you think of THE CHERRY ORCHARD which sums up his funny-sad melancholia, his nostalgia and his rudderless hope, his offstage crises and onstage aftermaths, his bursts of burlesque and his subdued ensembles. The Huntington’s new production fails to capture that autumnal mood and offers instead the familiar house style where Broadway slickness weds Boston decorum, resulting in a well-dressed, well-mannered child with all of the animal bred out of it --- and those kind of children soon become dull company. The evening magically begins with a delicately-lit dawn and the sounds of barking dogs at just the right distance to suggest vast landscapes, followed by the rush and jumble of characters spilling in through doors and French windows, but such excitement apologetically calms down into a non-ensemble of turns, punctuated with dug-for laughter (this is a comedy, remember). Stanislavski rehearsed his troupe for months on end; he wanted layered, living relationships on his stage --- Nicholas Martin settles for surface rhythms: you may be beguiled at the time, but how quickly this CHERRY ORCHARD vanishes from memory once you are out in the cold night air…

Most of the supporting turns work, in and of themselves: any production boasting Jeremiah Kissel is worth attending for him, alone; his Pishchik is well thought-out tics and twitches. Sarah Hudnut’s declamation is convincingly tailored to Varya’s laced-up frustrations though her symbolic throwing down of her keys is too quick, too sudden, and goes for nothing; Joyce Van Patten’s Carlotta is an amusing lump of sourdough and, despite being saddled with a cottony beard, Dick Latessa moves as the dying, abandoned Firs --- the most exquisite ending to a modern play, yet. Enver Gjokaj’s Petya and Robert Bonotto’s two-minute Tramp punch up things with their “Russian” earthiness --- they, alone, suggest the smells, tastes and textures of a country estate --- whereas Jessica Rothenberg and Jessica Dickey over-project their lines, hardening their voices and thus their Anya and Dunyasha. Jeremy Beck and Gene Farber do nicely as Ms. Dickey’s contrasting swains.

As for the leads, Will LeBow is too old and painted to play Lopakin --- harsh, but true --- and his former serf-turned-usurper is disagreeable, even churlish. Mark Blum’s Gaev is a parrot ever wheedling for a cracker; Kate Burton, a pleasing actress, lacks the flamboyance for Ranevskaya, the starriest turn of all --- she all but disappears inside a stunning red-beaded gown. Whether she realizes this or not, Ms. Burton is also giving an uncanny impersonation of Debbie Reynolds in looks and spunkiness (in that gown, she’s the Unsinkable Molly Brown).

Ralph Funicello’s interior setting is as generic as his exterior one, set in the woods, is stunning and Donald Holder’s lighting is at its best during the nocturnal party scene with the characters stepping outdoors, upstage, to glide about in the navy blue, again evoking a vast sense of space, and a repeat nod for Drew Levy’s unseen, barking dogs. But Huntington evenings must be more than visuals and sounds --- the Old Girl needs some passion on her boards, even at the risk of alienating her Old Guard audiences; if there could only be an exchange of artists between the Huntington and the A.R.T.: that way, the former could spice up its life and the latter could learn to tolerate the basics of good, solid Theatre (these companies are really sisters, under the skin). Such an exchange has already begun on the Huntington’s part with the Messrs. LeBow and Kissel in its midst, and one mustn’t forget Mr. Kissel gracing the A.R.T. with his own moving Chekhov portrayal, not so long ago --- I haven’t.

"The Cherry Orchard" (5 January - 4 February)
264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide