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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at BAM (The Harvey Theater)


  PH: Joan Marcus

The Russian society depicted in Anton Chekhov's heartbreaking 1904 tragicomedy The Cherry Orchard in which a spoiled aristocrat refuses to recognize that her family fortune is gone until it's too late, bers a striking similarity to contemporary American society and its uncertain economic future.

The new revival of The Cherry Orchard at Brooklyn Academy of Music marks the advent of the long-awaited Bridge Project, a three-year series of transatlantic productions in which Sam Mendes directs an equally-mixed company of British and American actors in double bills of classic plays.

This season, The Cherry Orchard will play in repertory with The Winter's Tale, which opens next month with the same cast. In order to accommodate both plays, the set design is extremely empty and minimal.

Tom Stoppard's translation of Chekhov is clear, clean and full of humor. However, Mendes forcefully attempts to make his mark on the play with symbolic devices that are too spelled out and obvious.

Before intermission, a rear wall suddenly rises on a frozen tableau of peasants, ready to disrupt the older social hierarchy. At Ranevskaya's party, her masked guests swarm around her as if she were prey. After Lopakhin buys the family's cherry orchard, he knocks down every chair onstage to represent its eventual destruction. Meanwhile, eerie music is used to further intensify dramatic moments.

The irony is that the production hosts a fantastic cast that doesn't need unnecessary embellishments. For starters, Simon Russell Beale runs the gamut emotionally as Lopakhin, the former serf who is now a wealthy merchant. He displays not only vulgar gaiety at his triumphs, but also pained loneliness and repressed anger when the family fails to recognize him as their equal.

Also nuanced and compelling are Sinead Cusack, who portrays Ranevskaya as a childish diva too ignorant to comprehend her financial plight, and Rebecca Hall, showing maturity and real pain as the adopted daughter Varya. However, Ethan Hawke's high-wired performance as the aggressive tutor Trofimov feels forced and awkward.

In all, The Cherry Orchard is a terrific start to a genuinely exciting enterprise.

BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, 718 636 4100,, $30-90, Tues-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 3pm. Thru March 7.


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