By: Bernard Carragher
June 24, 2022: “The Orchard,” based on Anton Chekov’s 1903 play “The Cherry Orchard” is at the Baryshnikov Arts Center on 37th Street and acted by the Arlekin Players Theatre and (zero-G) Virtual Theater Lab. Although “The Cherry Orchard” is accepted as a classic and one of the great dramas written in last twentieth century, this bitter-sweet play is rarely ever acted because of its combination of broad comedy and gentle pathos and requires a stage full of gifted players. The director Igor Golyack, born in Kyiv, Serbia and educated in Moscow, has found a group of nine wonderful actors and fitted them into his own unique staging and Carol Rocamora’s fresh and free translation. They make the play come alive and breathe and laugh and weep as only Chekov can convey.
At the start Jessica Hecht sets the right tone. As Madame Raneuskaya, the flutter-brained mistress of the great Russian estate, she is pretty, aristocratic, elegantly dressed in beautiful costumes by Oana Botez , but gullible , giddy and pathetically weak in the face of a crisis as most human beings are. Chekov brings this landed lady back to her ancestral home after six years in Paris, at a time of her estate, with that magnificent cherry orchard, is about to be sold for debts.
She has no money, having run through a fortune chasing after a worthless man since her husband died and her beloved little boy was drowned. Her prattling brother Gaev, played by the excellent Mark Nelson, can’t help her; he is too penniless and given to day dreams. He is taken care of by Firs, the mumbling old butler, brilliantly acted by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Firs, was born into the family as a serf, stayed after the serfs were freed and now, at 90, fusses about the house, scolding his master, Gaev, for going outside in the wrong pants. Baryshnikov is not 90 — he is 75 — but achieves Firs look with a shaggy white toupee and make-up and aging black butler’s suit.
Ranevskaya’s 17 year old daughter Anya (Juliett Brett) can’t help her . She is sweet but without resources. Her love is Trofimov (John McGinty) , a mute teacher, in love with Anya, and like almost everyone in the play he is a dreamer too.
Varya (Elise Kibler) is a half sister and is the house maid. She wants to marry the local Lohpakhin (Nael Nacer). He is the only person in the household that is practical. He grew up the son of a serf and now has become a millionaire businessman. Unlike Ranevskaya he tries to help her face her fianancial problems. He tells her she must sell her house and land including her orchard. She can’t do it. The days of estates have ended Russia and the world is entering a new era.She still refuses. The estate is auctioned off to Lophakin, while Raneskaya gives a party and dance in her yard overlooking the cherry orchard. All the guests perform including the magnificent turn by the robot dog and also Firs. The next day Ranevskaya’s tearfully leaves but asks Lohpakhin not to start axing the cherry orchard until she is on the train to Paris.
Golyak carries out some of the lessons his Russian teachers taught him. A 12 foot robotic arm is on the on the set off the estate and there is a charming robotic dog. Robotics design is by Tom Sepe. He also uses Virtual Theater, a form that blends elements of cinema,video games and live performers. But none of this takes over Chekov’s dramatic effects. Nobody projects, nobody overplays, whether for comedy or for pathos. They are all fused into Chekov’s harmonious pattern of Russia 1903.
The Orchard ****
Arleen Players Theatre and (zero-G) Virtual Theater Lab at Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 W. 37th St., NYC.
Tue—Thu 7pm; Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 2pm.
Running time: two hours with no intermission. $39—$125. www.ovationtix.com.
June 16—July 3, 2022
Photography: Pavel Antonov and Maria Baranova