Houses on the verge of foreclosure? Nature being destroyed in favor of development? Mismanagement and indecision that results in mass loss? Sound familiar? Eerily so, but I’m talking about Chekhov’s portrayal of Russia at the turn of the 20th Century in The Cherry Orchard. Sam Mendes directs the production currently at BAM, the first Brit-Yank Bridge Project collaboration. And it is Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of the play that perhaps makes it so current.
The play turns identity on its head — serfs become landowners and aristocrats become homeless. Leading the charge is a beyond excellent Simon Russell Beals, whose Lopakhin ends up owning the estate his family once slaved away on. The most powerful scene involves Beals systematically knocking down every single chair on set in a fit of rage at the noble class’ futility. It was also great to see Ethan Hawke on the home team holding his own against a remarkable cast — including Sinead Cusack (now I know what Helena Bonham Carter will look like in a decade), Rebecca Hall and Josh Hamilton. I’m still amazed at how Hawke has crafted such a varied career for himself — from author, to director, to actor. Who would have predicted that from our favorite Reality Bites, Violent Femmes-performing slacker?
The play dragged a bit for my taste, but maybe that was more of the result of the stool-like chairs we were seated on toward the top of the Harvey theater? Note to the Harvey: if you’re going to have stools, you should also have a bar to lean on. Theater-goers beware!
Also, after some post-play research, I find myself wishing that I saw more of the comedic and even farcical tone that Chekhov apparently intended. I chuckled at some moments — most memorably Richard Easton’s Fiers responding to Lopahkin’s comment that he looks old with a quick-witted, “Well, I’ve lived a long time!” But overall, I thought the production was overly stoic.
Posted by: Mariela