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REVIEW: ‘The Cherry Orchard’ yields an indifferent harvest

wiestDianne120411_optJohn Turturro, Dianne Wiest and Michael Urie visit Chekhov’s classic

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW

Classic Stage Company, which has done fairly well by Anton Chekhov’s major plays in its four-year Chekhov Initiative (and last winter’s “Three Sisters” with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard was superb), concludes the series with a so-so revival of “The Cherry Orchard” that opened on Sunday.

Anybody reading this far probably already knows Chekhov’s final masterpiece, so let’s simply note that this is the one about the family who loses their provincial estate. The 1904 drama is a bittersweet reflection upon the transitory nature of life and how everything in the world changes.

Too bad that John Christopher Jones’ new adaptation sounds awkward and not as conversational as it might be. Even so, director Andrei Belgrader might have smoothed it over by fusing his gifted actors into more of a collective approach to the text.

Dianne Wiest alternately twinkles and mists up as Ranevskaya, the spendthrift lady who cannot get a grip on her life. Daniel Davis is genteel as her helpless brother Gaev. John Turturro presents his typical bewildered and earthy kinda guy as the former peasant who ultimately buys their estate. Juliet Rylance portrays Ranevskaya’s disappointed daughter Vcherryorchard120411_optarya with a brave smile. Katherine Waterston portrays the younger daughter Anya plaintively. Josh Hamilton looks earnest as the perpetual student Trofimov.

They’re all okay in a melancholy way, but nobody appears to be digging deeply into their characters. Worse, their differing acting styles fail to convey that they’re all performing in the same play. Certainly Roberta Maxwell’s flashy turn as the eccentric governess proves to be a one-woman-show all by itself.

Alvin Epstein is funny and touching as the doddering retainer Fiers while Slate Holmgren is sly and sexy as the young footman Yasha, who goes so far as to suggest an intimacy with Ranevskaya. “Ugly Betty” actor Michael Urie’s performance as the bumbling clerk unfortunately seems as obvious as the squeak in his shoes.

The noticeable lack of ensemble feeling to Belgrader’s quiet production is disappointing, but at least some of these individual performances are interesting. There’s little interesting about Santo Loquasto’s sparse, semi-white settings or Marco Piemontese’s 1900s costumes, but they suffice.

“The Cherry Orchard” continues through Dec. 30 at Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., New York. Call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.classicstage.org.

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