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Review: The Cherry Orchard

Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane, John Glover (Photo: Joan Marcus courtesy of Polk & Co.)

Harold Perrineau, Diane Lane, John Glover (Photo: Joan Marcus courtesy of Polk & Co.)

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The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov is one of those classic plays many of us read in high school or college. You may remember the plot: an aristocratic Russian family of dwindling means faces the sale at auction of its beloved cherry orchard. The current owners, a brother and sister, are in denial, while a successful businessman, the son of a former serf on the estate, urges them to develop the property as vacation homes.

The theme of people dealing with social change can still resonate more than 100 years after its premiere, but getting the right tone can be tricky. Chekhov has famously called the play a comedy with elements of farce, though there’s inevitable sadness, even tragedy, at the loss of something so precious. The Roundabout production which just opened at the American Airlines Theatre, leans heavily on the farce, with dubious results.

They’ve cast a glamorous star, Diane Lane, as the sister Ravekskaya, who has just returned from Paris, and John Glover as her brother Gaev, who waxes philosophically about everything but is out of touch with reality. Lane is lovely and a fine actress, but never seems to fully inhabit the role. Glover, a veteran stage actor, gets laughs with his over-the-top performance, but creates an imbalance with his co-star.

The multi-cultural supporting cast, which includes the octogenarian treasure Joey Grey as the longtime servant Firs, and stage veterans Chuck Cooper as a neighboring landowner, and Celia Keenan-Bolger as a long-suffering daughter, are all very capable – and very kinetic, constantly in motion, dancing around the stage, bumping into chairs, strutting offstage. Harold Perrineau as the nouveau-riche businessman commands the stage in a crucial role, but with a lot of exuberant arm waving and in the last act does some break dancing. Is that really necessary?

The production, directed by the Englishman, Simon Godwin, definitely moves right along (there’s actually a credit for a movement director), but at the expense of a deeper feeling. The problem isn't in the new adaptation by Stephen Karam, who justly earned a Tony Award for his superb play, The Humans, which was both funny and moving and also portrayed characters struggling with change. Although the language has been updated, the costumes are all late 19th century, until suddenly in the last act they become modern dress – symbolic, I suppose, of a new order.

If an English teacher were to take a high school class to this production, in this age of short attention spans they wouldn’t be bored and would probably enjoy it. Would they fully appreciate Chekhov, though? That’s a different matter.