Photo by Don Kellogg

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Cherry Orchard

I can't say I'm a huge fan of "the classics".  But occasionally, I do know it's good to see some of them to expand one's horizons.  And there's one theatre, aptly named, in town that I always head to for my fix - Classic Stage Company.   The last play in their Anton Chekhov cycle (and Chekhov's final play) is The Cherry Orchard.

I did a little reading on Chekhov.  I'm pretty sure most of what I didn't like was his play itself.  Perhaps a bit of it was the mood and artistic interpretation that director, Andrei Belgrader, took too.  Were those 4th wall breaches in the script?  Did we need a dog?  Did someone really need to give up his seat for the old chambermaid?  Well, without much proof (and no desire to go read the script from cover to cover for stage directions), i'll just lay it in equal parts on the author and the director.

What I can be sure of is that the work is epic, poetic, and contains all sorts of oddly comedic characters that are supposed to represent the 19th Century Russian society.  The play is a comedy, but borders on farce.  It's really what today we would call a socio-political satire.  In this case, falling importance and wealth of Russian aristocracy, the freeing of and rise of the peasant class, land ownership, wealth distribution, and the blurring of the lines of class and position in society.  While the play itself seemed oddly formal or maybe a bit stilted (perhaps that is my un-cultured ear), that was completely offset by several fine performances throughout.

The dashing and commanding John Turturro and the beautifully effervescent Diane Wiest held court on the pizza-pie shaped, appropriately stained white canvas stage the entire evening.  The absolutely adorable and boyish Michael Urie made us laugh at his travails, and, not one but, two Waterston sisters took to this stage - Elisabeth as a bold attention seeking chambermaid and Katherine as the dutiful daughter.  Daniel Davis wore a cream suit suit to complement his blazing white hair and Roberta Maxwell deadpanned her absurd lines to much delight.  Josh Hamilton made being a lifetime student look easy and Alvin Epstein charmed us with his elderly gentleman humor.

A truly fine ensemble cast all around and a classic and sophisticated set as I have come to expect from CSC time and time again.  After watching it, discussing it afterwards with my play-going-friend, and now writing this, I can say for sure that I'm still not a classics-lover.  But what I can also say is that when a great ensemble cast such as this is gathered - sometimes the works come to life and resonate in ways you didn't expect.   I won't run out and buy the complete anthology of Anton Chekhov any time soon, but I would encourage you to run down to CSC and get a ticket to see this fine production if you're so inclined.