Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Cherry Orchard"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"The Cherry Orchard"

by Anton Chekhov
Translated by George Malko
Directed by Daniel Gidron

Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield
Costume Design by Arthur Oliver
Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski
Dressers/Wig & Wardrobe Coordinators Ashley Joyce, Amanda Ostrow
Properties Coordinator Ronald J. De Marco
Sound Design & Composition by Peter McMurray
Choreography by Sarah Hickler
Assistant Stage Manager Theo Goodell
Production Stage Manager Victoria Cody

Lyubov Ranyevskaya, landowner......Annette Miller
Anya, her daughter...........Elise Audrey Manning
Varya, her adopted daughter..........Mara Sidmore
Leonid Gayev, her brother.......Michael Balcanoff
Yermolai Lopahin. a merchant...........Ken Baltin
Pyotr Trofimov, student.............Doug Lockwood
Boris Simyonov-Pischik, landowner....Mark Peckham
Charlotta Ivanovna, governess.......Dona Sorbello
Semyon Epihodov, clerk.............Robert Bonotto
Dunyasha, maid.......................Darcy Fowler
Yasha, valet..................Daniel Berger-Jones
Firs, valet.........................William Young
Maid...........................Sarah Sadie Newett
Drifter/Postal Clerk.................Fred Robbins
Stationmaster..........................Dev Luthra

The still-new Central Square Theater is a multi-flexible playing-space, arranged for this show as a flat stage before a high-rise of mostly-filled seats, with a sumptuous curtained proscenium-arch as a backdrop that can open on a forced-perspective field in Brynna Bloomfield's set. The play was written 105 years ago, in Russian, and memorializes the financial and emotional bankruptcy of a farm-owning aristocracy that loved Mother Russia but spent their money visiting Paris. At one point family members returning to their beloved home stare smiling directly into the audience saying "Look, the whole orchard is white with cherry-blossoms!" On 17 January 1904 Konstantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre made theater everywhere new with Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard"; today the Nora Theatre Company, in George Malko's new translation directed by Daniel Gidron, is bringing those laughably charming characters back into a new theatre, and a new century.

At the center of the play is Annette Miller as the estate's owner. Unwilling to sell her family's history she faces losing it in a tax-auction, yet she loans non-existent cash to a fellow spendthrift farmer, and talks of going back in Paris to a lover who spent and stole her money before throwing her over for someone else. Family and personal memories (her young son drowned in the local river) pin her emotions to the estate, where her mother walked, in white dresses, under white-blossomed cherries that no longer bear commercial fruit. After a series of three solo-plays (as Martha Mitchell, Diana Vreeland, and Goldas Meir), Miller returns to group-acting as the dithering matriarch of a large coterie from whom she always needs flattery and support.

But there are a dozen other actors in this company, and the big, flat, minimally-furnished stage gives them plenty of room for significant details --- whether it's Michael Balcanoff lengthily, emptily pontificating as Ranyevskaya's billiards-obsessed brother, two servants snatching a moment of back-door sex (Darcy Fowler & Daniel Berger-Jones), the governess (Donna Sorbello) talking to her little dog or doing magic-tricks, Robert Bonotto's calamities as an accident-prone clerk, or Ken Baltin's almost acrobatic enthusiasms when, as son of one of the estate's slaves, he suggests saving the farm by turning it into a collection of rented summer-homes. Then there are simply smiles, glances or mere reactions from people like the daughters (Elise Audrey Manning & Mara Sidmore) that define characters, or William Young's old, deaf servant Firs referring to the emancipation of slaves like himself as "The Disaster!"

Director Daniel Gidron is at pains to fulfill Chekhov's own opinion that the play is really a comedy bordering on farce, but different nationalities and over a hundred years of social history war against depth or subtlety. The result is a solid surface-reading of events that must have been shattering, as well as funny, when the play was new.

This is a sort of "Chekhov Winter" --- The American Repertory Theatre will be through previews for "The Seagull" at Loeb Drama Center tomorrow while at The Boston Center for The Arts the brand-new Boston Art Theatre company is doing a stunningly human "Uncle Vanya" in the tiny Black Box Theatre. If you see them all, take notes; I hear there's a quiz.

( a k a larry stark )

"The Cherry Orchard" (8 January - 1 February)
@ Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE MA
1 (617)576-9278 x213

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide