"It Would Make Anton Happy"
by Marco Marrese on 20/02/11

The Cherry Orchard is probably the most well-rounded and autobiographical play Anton Cechov has left. First represented just a few months before the author's death, the play is a tribute to Cechov by Anton himself and to his most beloved theme of confused and doubtful identities.

In his intentions, the play was to be a comedy. It was a farce about the social upheaval in Russia following the abolition of serfdom: the denial of those that were not able to keep their position in society (the aristocracy), the loving bitterness of those that were able to rise to new prominence but felt their inadequacy deeply (the new bourgeois) and the disorientation of those that lost their meaning (the old serf).
But it has most often been represented as a tragedy and, even, as a Marxist text.

It is for this ambiguity and the power of the text that one must be intrigued by the combination of a new "translation" and the intimacy of the White Bear for this Grey Swan Production. And, we must say from the start, that while the promises are not voided, the production unfortunately does miss something to be excellent.

The most successful side of this representation is that neither the tragedy nor the comedy trump on each other but the twos live alongside rather successfully. Quite an achievement. Likewise, the duration of the play is remarkable; at almost 3h (with an interval) it might be an endurance test for some, but it does repay the viewers with a quite rare uncut staging of a play which is most often shortened.
On the other side, the translation seems not to live up to the promise of being "literal". Although the reviewer cannot really tell, it seems most unlikely Cechov would have used expression like "fellow" or "give me a break" (among others) and, in fact, they feel rather out of place on the actors' lips.

As for the stage, the space at the White Bear is quite limited but we do not feel the need for more, not even during the group scenes. And the few (out of necessity, but well chosen) pieces of furniture suffice while the painted cherry trees and (especially) the "cherry parquet" do the trick of remembering us physically what is perennially in our characters' minds.

But in the end, any representation of The Cherry Orchard is about the acting. And this representation is a mixed bag.
To tell the truth, the main characters are truly well acted but, as a result, the weaknesses of the others are all the more felt. Our student Trofimov does not feel genuinely unaware of being a self-contradictory fundamentalist, as he should be, Pischick is not nearly as pathetically obtrusive as he should, and Yepikhodov becomes just one more of the unidentified characters.
But this production deserves to be seen for Mme. Ranevsky, Varya and Fiers are truly remarkable and Gaev and Lopakhin stand their ground. Not much can be said against Gaev's interpretation, although the wobbling has been a little overdone and it does diminish the character effectiveness, while Lopakhin is very much convincing as both an honest, dedicated friend and an entrepreneur but lacks strength as the doubtful, anxious member of the new bourgeoisie he is to be, thus weakening one of the best angle in the play. Mme. Ranevsky fits perfectly the role with her ingenuity, her nostalgia and the innocent damnation of being unable to be anything but a well-mannered Russian aristocrat despite being bankrupt and astray. Varya delivers most of the tragedy of the play with liquid eyes, melancholic surrender and unbelievable naturalness. Fiers is recognizably the only one aware of the changes that occurred and the disorientation felt by most in the "new order of things" and, all the more for that, consciously and ferociously rejecting it (his physical acting is truly remarkable).

For all of this, and for the dreadful sound of the trees been chopped down at the end, The Cherry Orchard is a worthy and enjoyable night out.

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