Arts & Culture

Theater Review: ‘The Cherry Orchard’

A family and society in crisis
TIMEOctober 17, 2016

NEW YORK—In presenting the woes of one family, the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov has presented a microcosm of Russia just after the turn of the 20th century. The aristocracy is losing its power, and the lower classes are about to rise to the top of society. A new version of the play by Stephen Karam, directed by Simon Godwin, encompasses the elements of Chekhov’s play in all its complexity and richness.

The elegant Madame Ranevskaya (Diane Lane) is returning to her Russian estate after a five-year sojourn in Paris, where she fled shortly after the death by drowning of her 7-year-old son.

Production elements are outstanding in this production.

She is accompanied by her daughter Anya (Tavi Gevinson); governess Charlotta Ivanovna (Tina Benko), who serves as companion to Anya; and Yasha (Maurice Jones), who had served as valet to Ranevskaya in Paris.

They are met by a welcoming party consisting of Ranevskaya’s brother, Gaev (John Glover); her adopted daughter Varya (Celia Keenan-Bolger), who manages the estate; the businessman Lopakhin (Harold Perrineau); and other employees and friends of the family.

Lopakhin, now successful, claims that his father and grandfather were not even allowed in the kitchen. He pointedly reminds Ranevskaya that the estate is shortly to be put up for auction, and all, including her beloved cherry orchard, will go to the highest bidder unless Madame and Gaev are able to cover debts owed on the estate.

(L–R) Gaev (John Glover) and his sister Madame Ranevskaya (Diane Lane) cannot conceive that their aristocratic way of life is changing. Firs (Joel Grey), their servant, looks on. (Joan Marcus)
(L–R) Gaev (John Glover) and his sister Madame Ranevskaya (Diane Lane) cannot conceive that their aristocratic way of life is changing. Firs (Joel Grey), their servant, looks on. (Joan Marcus)

The inability of the owners to tackle the problem permeates the entire play. Unable to face the loss of the cherry orchard, noted throughout Russia for its expansive beauty, Ranevskaya prefers to procrastinate, living in the false hope that something or someone will come to the rescue and prevent the inevitable disaster.

But Lopakhin has offered a tangible solution: Sell off the land in parcels to build cottages, which will eagerly be bought up. However, as this would involve cutting down the cherry orchard, Ranevskaya turns a deaf ear.

It is remarkable how she and Gaev can remain in persistent denial when the negative outcome is obvious.

In spite of the underlying threat, the lives and loves of various participants are depicted. Many think that Lopakhin and Varya will marry.

The young maid Dunyasha (Susannah Flood) falls in love with Yasha. He, on his part, wants nothing more than to return to Paris.

(L–R) Student Trofimov (Kyle Beltran), Anya (Tavi Gevinson), her mother Madame Ranevskaya (Diane Lane), and Ranevskaya's adopted daughter Varya (Celia Keenan-Bolger). (Joan Marcus)
(L–R) Student Trofimov (Kyle Beltran), Anya (Tavi Gevinson), her mother Madame Ranevskaya (Diane Lane), and Ranevskaya’s adopted daughter Varya (Celia Keenan-Bolger). (Joan Marcus)

Anya is in love with the perennial student Trofimov (Kyle Beltran), although Ranevskaya disapproves of him.

Meanwhile, the estate bookkeeper Yepikhodov (Quinn Mattfeld), who prefers eating and lounging about to working, adores Dunyasha. He also has numerous accidents, for which he is mercilessly teased by the others.

A landowner, Simeon Pischik (Chuck Cooper), tries unsuccessfully to cadge loans from Mme. Ranevskaya, but is always somehow bailed out of his financial difficulties by having opportunities drop out of the skies to save him.

The elderly servant Firs (masterfully limned by Joel Grey) mutters about “the good old days,” annoyed that at one time aristocrats visited the estate but in recent days it’s the Station Master (Philip Kerr) and postmaster who receive invitations.

Ranevskaya simply cannot hold onto money even when she has it. She overtips waiters and gives a gold coin, rather than silver, to a passerby (Peter Bradbury).

Overall, the acting is fine, although, in my opinion, Diane Lane’s Ranevskaya is too modern and lightweight in quality. She has some nice scenes, however.

There are standouts by Tina Benko, whose amusing magic tricks as the governess take stage powerfully, and the aforementioned Joel Grey, who creates a distinct, loyal servant of a vanishing era. The last scene, where Grey’s Firs is forgotten and left to die, creates great poignancy.

Production elements are outstanding in this production. The use of a small live musical group adds color and depth. This consists of conductor and violinist Bryan Hernandez-Luch, clarinetist Liam Burke, and percussionist Chihiro Shibayama. The music coordinator is John Miller.

Set design by Scott Pask, costumes by Michael Krass, lighting by Donald Holder, and sound by Christopher Cronin all deserve the highest praise.

The party scenes are nothing short of fabulous, with their liveliness and colorful execution balancing the somber content of the play. Jonathan Goddard is credited for the excellent movement.

Again, kudos to playwright Stephen Karam, director Simon Godwin, and to the Roundabout Theatre Company for making this production possible.

‘The Cherry Orchard’
American Airlines Theatre
227 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: 212-719-1300 or RoundaboutTheatre.org
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: Dec. 4

Diana Barth writes on the arts for various publications, including New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com

Diana Barth
Diana Barth writes for various theatrical publications and for New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com