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The Cherry Orchard
Director Sam Mendes brings out the humor in Chekhov's <em>The Cherry Orchard,</em> now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
 

The Cherry Orchard
Brooklyn Academy of Music
New York
(718) 636-4100


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Anton Chekhov always insisted that his plaintive last play, The Cherry Orchard, was actually a comedy, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Yet most directors choose to push the work’s melancholy side. It is Chekhov, after all. This new production, directed by Sam Mendes, may be the first to “make us see how naturally the comic label fits.” Mendes takes advantage of “fresh comic shadings” present in Tom Stoppard’s new adaptation and staffs the play with an “illustrious Anglo-American cast” that includes Sinead Cusack, Simon Russell Beale, Ethan Hawke, and Rebecca Hall. Mendes and his cast can’t quite “make the turn into an equally affecting sadness” that the evening’s end requires. But their well-executed take on the play’s humor “offers considerable compensation.”

In some ways, Mendes and company still seem to be tinkering with the balance between comedy and pathos, said David Rooney in Variety. But, for the most part, this is ensemble work at its most powerful. Cusack presents an “imperious and fluttery” Madame Ranevskaya, the fading aristocrat who chooses reverie over reality and ignores the fact that the family estate must be sold. Russell Beale sets the comic tone as Lopakhin, the former family servant turned merchant who hopes to gain standing with his onetime masters by buying the estate. Hall is touching as Ranevskaya’s put-upon adopted daughter, Varya, and Hawke nails the “idealistic eternal student” Trofimov.

The problems of this production have nothing to do with the cast and everything to do with its director, said Brian Scott Lipton in Theatermania.com. A typical Mendes production, such as his revival of Cabaret or his recent film Revolutionary Road, comes across as gloom-and-doom. Here he goes to the other extreme, seemingly unable to resist the temptation to “go for the laugh.” Stoppard’s translation, though undeniably eloquent, is also “occasionally coarse.” The duo “haven’t completely misunderstood” the playwright, but they should have put more emphasis on the “missed connections for love and understanding” that permeate the work. Nonetheless, “theatergoers who delight in the unexpected” will find plenty to like here.

 

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