The Cherry Orchard
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The Cherry Orchard: Theater review by Helen Shaw
A few months ago, Chekhov fans got a little thrill when they heard that Maly Drama Theatre was coming to town: Lev Dodin's St. Petersburg–based company is an international juggernaut, and The Cherry Orchard is Chekhov's final masterwork. Yet the version now at BAM limps along, striking muffled notes that should be clear. The Maly actors shout and mug; there's little magic, no balance and barely any dynamic control. How has a company this great gotten so histrionically out of hand?
If you don't already know the play, Dodin's storytelling choices may rather baffle you. Casting and costuming run in consistently counterintuitive directions: Fading aristocrat Lyubov Ranevskaya (Ksenia Rappoport) looks hardly older than her daughter Anya (Danna Abyzova) and adopted daughter-cum-housekeeper Varya (Elizaveta Boiarskaia), yet she seems decades younger than brother Gayev (Igor Chernevich). Ranevskaya's servant Yasha (Stanislav Nikolskii)—a dandy in Chekhov's description—flails around as a perpetual sloppy drunk; the supposedly awkward bourgeois Lopakhin (Danila Koslovskiy) is loud and confident and dresses like a gangster. (The text says Lopakhin is nervous around Ranevskaya—this one sings “My Way.”)
Dodin and his company give Chekhov the Glenn Gould treatment, delighting in countertextual readings and perversions of the original, adhering to their own rhythms (which means subverting Chekhov's time-signature) and veering, frequently, towards affectation. The performances are self-indulgent, yet there's still something empowering about the Maly pacing, the way the director lingers over the work, embroidering moments and interpolating emotional events between Chekhov's lines. But why did this technique work so beautifully with previous productions—Uncle Vanya, The Seagull and Three Sisters—and not here?
The difference seems to be, simply, size. Dodin and his designer Aleksander Borovsky put the action right in the BAM Harvey Theater's front rows and up and down the aisles, which puts us uncomfortably close to performers whose technique depends on distance and a proscenium. Such intimacy, combined with an unfortunate tendency by the actors to vamp for approval, means your enjoyment will hinge on how broad you like your acting.
The performances range from the nicely emphatic (Boiarskaia) to laughably soap-operatic (Rappoport) to side-of-the-barn ridiculous (Koslovskiy). According to Dodin, bigger is better, since he has Lopakhin completely take over the show. Some will find Koslovskiy's Lopakhin a saucy, oligarch-skewering portrait; others will find him annoyingly hammy. Whatever your take, his stage-hogging antics put him beyond pity. This is a startling choice. Dodin has staged an Orchard that elaborates on all kinds of facets—he adds sexual high jinks and random breakdowns and much violent business. He adds so much, but edits out Chekhov's sympathy. That, I found, was a cut too deep. The play (or maybe I) can’t do without it.—Helen Shaw
BAM Harvey Theater (Off Broadway). By Anton Chekhov. Directed by Lev Dodin. With ensemble cast. In Russian with English supertitles. Running time: 3hrs 5mins. One intermission.