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A CurtainUp Review
The Cherry Orchard
By David Lipfert
For the second visit to New York by the Moscow Sovremennik Theatre Company, Artistic Director Galina Volchek selected another Chekhov classic, The Cherry Orchard. This choice is entirely fitting, since Ms. Volchek and others broke away from the Moscow Art Theater precisely to offer contemporary readings of the Russian classics that had become stultified. The name of the company, Sovremennik, in fact means "contemporary." Presenting Chekhov had become an exercise in preciousness; his characters showed only a glimmer of their vitality and complexity. Decades before, the Moscow Art Theater was founded to abolish the overwrought style of the star system in favor of theater where the actors would relate to one another in complete naturalism. How ironic that the strong hand of a director has unwittingly returned Chekhov to the era of exaggeration while imposing superficiality. Hegel said it more concisely: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
The Cherry Orchard offers uncanny insights into our current conflicts between ultra-modern technology and earlier values by highlighting the effects of "progress." Telegrams arrive as daily reminders of uncomfortable realities beyond the estate. From Russia to Europe, the railroad has linked lives and forever destroyed the barriers of time and distance. The railroad has also made the orchard tract expendable for the frivolous use of vacation homes. The result is not all bleak: the increase in land value that the railroad has caused will enable Ranevskaya to return in style to her lover in Paris.
Using many of the same actors as in her more successful Three Sisters last year, Ms. Volchek relies heavily on their comic talents. Igor Kvasha and Marina Neyolova play the siblings Gayev and Ranevskaya in a broad style more suited to light entertainment. They become vulgar simpletons who blurt out their innermost feelings to the audience. Surely the decorous Ranevskaya would not have burst into a wild dance as she does here. Perhaps the biggest loss regards the nouveau riche merchant Lopakhin. While Lopakhin is proud of his new status, he remains aware of his origins as he defers to the original owners of the orchard. Under Ms. Volchek's direction, Sergei Garmash plays this pivotal figure in the first act with the overbearing confidence that he should display only by the end of the story. Absent from Ms. Volchek's conception is Lopakhin's sincere belief that he is saving Ranevskaya and Gayev from a desperate situation of their own making.
The brighter spots include Rogvold Sukhoverko as the aging Firs, Valery Shalnikh as a gregarious Yasha and Maria Anikanova as the irrepressibly hopeful Anya. Aleksander Khovansky began interestingly as the radical intellectual Trofimov but was less grounded in his final confrontation with Lopakhin, perhaps because Ms. Volchek had him play the scene just for laughs. Galina Petrova as the German governess Sharlotta had some delightful moments showing off her card tricks in the party scene.
With a sharply-raked central playing area, indoors and outdoors are combined in the unit set by Pavel Kaplevich and Peter Kirillov. Vyacheslav Zaltsev's costumes are improbably vulgar for the aristocratic Ranevskaya: the multi-colored ball gown with attached fake roses is topped in the last act by a shiny gray dress and cape for her exit. The lighting design by Efim Udler and Vladimir Urazbahjtin is remarkably dull. The majority Russian-speaking audience received the Sovremennik enthusiastically, sometimes interrupting scenes with applause. For the rest of us, a simultaneous translation was graciously supplied.
Other Chekhov plays reviewed and in our file cabinet:
The Three Sisters(La Mama production)
The Three Sisters (Roundabout Production)