The Cherry Orchard
Written By Anton Chekhov
Directed by Andrei Belgrader
Chekhov's plays' tendency to blur the line between comedy and tragedy has sometimes led them to be characterized as dreary struggles, ones in which the uproarious bouts of laughter along the way are only coincidental to the character's ultimate downward spiral. The argument stretches back over a century, when Konstantin Stanislavski directed the very first production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard
in 1904 and their visions diverged drastically: the playwright intended a comedy, but the director molded it into a tragedy. Subsequent directors have had the perplexing job of dealing with the play's duality.
Andrei Belgrader is not confused. Not in the slightest. It is a comedy, one with depth, but still, a comedy. As the director of the Classic Stage Company
's new production
(through December 30), he stands firmly in Chekhov's corner. What he does is create balance, something that few productions of The Cherry Orchard
have been able to achieve. In an interview with CSC, Belgrader says that most productions fall into one of two stylistic categories: "The actors are either self-indulgently mulling or whining or whatever the hell it is," or "it's a super comedy where everyone is being ridiculously funny all the time, and that sucks too because it lacks reality."
Setting the action on a circular stage that people in the front row can touch with the tips of their toes, Belgrader is not afraid of throwing unexpected occurrences into the mix. He breaks the fourth wall between audience and performers, a rarity in Chekhov, but spot–on in this translation.
"I always feel like talking, but there is no one I can talk to", says Charlotta (well-played by Roberta Maxwell), the eccentric governess of the house. She chats with people in the front row about what is happening in the play and even gets a member of the audience to dance the waltz with her in the second act.
Armed with a new translation by John Christopher Jones, this production walks a fine fine line between modern English and the original classical text. Jones worked one-on-one with Belgrader, John Turturro (Lopakin), and Dianne Wiest (Ranevskaya) to adapt the dialogue for each of the actors so they could feel freed instead of trapped by the language, which remains very poetic and emphasizes miscommunication between characters.
The inability to listen to the truth and an addiction to fantasy are the reasons Ranevskaya and her brother Gaev (Daniel Davis) are bound to lose the vast estate on which they grew up. They are lost in memories of the way Russia used to be and can't seem to accept the fact that the serfs are gone and a new social structure has arisen.
Both Turturro and Wiest give good performances as a social climber trying to run away from his peasant past and a disillusioned matriarch. Juliet Rylance delivers a rich and layered portrayal of Varya, Ranevskaya's older daughter and custodian of the estate. She and Lopakin fail to begin the relationship that everyone else thinks they should because of their inability to express the right things at the right times. They don't share the passionate intensity of an Emily Bronte novel, but that was exactly what Belgrader was going for anyway.
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)