Director Simon Godwin’s hyped direction of Stephen Karam’s new version of Anton Chekhov’s classic “The Cherry Orchard, first performed in Moscow in 1904 and now presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, never seems very Russian. An odd mix of actors emote loudly, but mostly fail to be convincing about the emotions they are enduring as they go through the rapid pacing concept.
The reference to serfs as slaves, for example, is one of the ways in which Chekhov’s classic loses its Russian identity. The substitution makes no sense. As much as I usually admire Diane Lane, her performance as Ranevskaya, who puts on airs and is reluctant to recognize her dire financial situation, is too boisterous, also in keeping with the flamboyant tone of the staging.
Harold Perrineau as the businessman Lopakhin, who is descended from serfdom but now is able to buy at auction the property of the aristocratic family, comes across more like a budding New York real estate wheeler-dealer than someone in the Russian mold. And so it goes with the retinue of the characters played by the cast attempting to delineate the problems of a society doomed to be replaced, symbolized by the family’s loss of its the beloved cherry orchard and estate and financial position.
Yes, there are humorous elements in the play (Chekhov referred to it as a comedy), and a somewhat touching instant of unrequited love, but in order for a production to work, somehow it must suggest the Russian soul. Regrettably, the actors in this production rarely seem remotely Russian.
There is one exception. Joel Grey as the elderly, humble servant Firs, taken for granted and left alone in the large home when everyone departs, communicates the sadness of his feeling that life has gone out of him after all the years of serving that household. Grey’s acting reminds us of what is missing.
Other above the title cast members include Chuck Cooper, Tavi Gevinson, John Glover, and Celia Keenan-Bolger. At the American Airlines Theatre. Reviewed October 23, 2016.