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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at BAM's Harvey Theatre


  Danila Kozlovskiy and Elizaveta Boiarskaia/ Ph: Stephanie Berger

Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard is one of the few great dramas written in the last century. It is a difficult play to produce since it is a bittersweet drama that combines broad comedy and gentle sentimental pathos and requires a stage full of gifted actors. Recently at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater, the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia, under the direction of Lev Dodin, presented a troupe of gifted Russian actors who gave us a new look at The Cherry Orchard in Russian with English subtitles.
The play was Chekov’s last dramatic work. It opened in 1904 at the Moscow Art Theatre six months before Chekov’s death of tuberculosis at age 44. Dodin, who has been with the Maly Theatre since 1983, has put his mark on this production with a fresh and free translation that cuts a few of Chekov's characters foibles while giving a few modern additions to several scenes. Yet it still is basically The Cherry Orchard, and his staging makes the play live and breathe, laugh and weep, for audiences today.
The play begins with Lyobow Ranevskaya's (Ksenia Rappoport) arrival back at her great ancestral Russian estate after six years in Paris. Her estate, with its magnificent cherry orchard, is about to be sold for debts – as the flutter-brained landlady Ms. Ranevskaya is handsome, elegant, gullible and pathetically weak in the face of crisis, as most human beings are. The house's furniture is mostly shrouded in white sheets, and director Dodin and the production's designer Aleksander Borovsky and lighting designer Damir Ismagilov have effectively staged the work all over Harvey Theater's auditorium.
Ms. Ranevskaya has no money, having run through a fortune chasing after a worthless man since her husband died and her beloved little boy was drowned. All she has is her family: a chattering brother Leonid Gayev (Sergei Valasov), who is not just penniless but daft, talking to bookcases and playing imaginary games of billiards. Her young daughter Anya (Danna Abyzova) is 17 and immature. Vary (Elizaveta Boiarskaia), her adopted daughter, takes care of the house and wants to marry the wealthy merchant Yermolai Lophakin (Danila Kozalovskiy), who more or less loves her but can’t get up the nerve to propose to her.
Dodin adds a black and white filmed sequence of the cherry orchard blossoming in white flowers in the spring with the family walking around in more happy times. The play proceeds in an atmosphere of tears and laughter as Lopakhin tries to convince Ranevskaya to sell him the estate. He shows her on the screen how it could be made into a profitable enterprise with a tract of summer cottages. At first she seems to like his idea, then refuses to accept it. He tells her in order to survive, she must sell her house and land, including her beloved orchard. She can’t do it, can’t face up to the fact that she is penniless. The days of great estates have ended. The Russian world is entering a new era.
The estate is bought at the auction by Lopakhin while Ranevskaya is giving a party she can't afford. Once Lopakhin gets the estate's keys, Dodin allows him to break out into a song and dance of "My Way in English," the only English heard on stage in this production. It was originally a French song that Paul Anka wrote English lyrics to, and Frank Sinatra turned it into a popular hit.
Towards the end of the play when Ranevskaya and her brother Gayev ask Lopakhin to let them see the cherry orchard one final time before they leave, we can hear the axes sawing down the cherry trees. Lopakhin doesn't take them to the orchard but instead gives them two reels of film of the cherry orchard, which we had seen earlier in the play. Ranevskaya puts on her hat, and she and her brother, with these last film remnants of their estate, tearfully leave for Paris.
In the end, Lopakhin, the son of a serf, now a millionaire, is the only one in this teeming household who is practical. Though even he has a human flaw – he can’t make up his mind to marry Varya. Or maybe he is going to look for a rich wife. Most of Chekov’s characters are dreamers rather than doers. They try to do their best in the face of problems with which most of them can’t cope. Even with Dodin’s modern touches, this Cherry Orchard is vital, good-humored and well acted, fused into a harmonious pattern by the entire cast.


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