WHAT “The Cherry Orchard”
WHERE American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
INFO $57-$142; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.org
BOTTOM LINE Unmoving Chekhov update with disappointing Diane Lane but terrific Joel Grey
Things are slipping away. Forests are being flattened in the name of progress, vulgarians are at the gate and hardly anyone feels easy about the future. So it was in the world of Anton Chekhov, humane master of mixed emotions, in his exquisite tragicomedies about turn-of-last-century Russia.
Given the familiarity of the situations, it seems natural that the Roundabout Theatre Company would set out to stage an updated adaptation of “The Cherry Orchard” in modern times. And it feels at least as right that Stephen Karam, Tony-winning playwright of the almost-Chekhovian “The Humans” and prodigy of the Roundabout’s developmental wing, should be commissioned to write the new version.
It hurts to have to say this. But the much-anticipated production, with Diane Lane at the top of a blazingly promising cast, is perplexing, stylistic gibberish. Worse, it is unmoving.
With the conspicuous exception of Joel Grey in the small but crucial role of Firs, the old servant, and a few others, the production directed by Simon Godwin has only superficial historical moorings and lacks what Chekhov called “the subtle elusive beauty of human grief.”
And Lane, so unerringly transparent throughout her major movie career, mostly seems earnest and uncomfortable as Ranevskaya — the vain, self-deluding but irresistible landowner whose family estate with its beloved cherry orchard is in peril of being subdivided into summer homes. Lane, who made her stage debut at 12 as a peasant child in the 1977 revival of the play, seems reluctant to play a charismatic showoff. Instead of toying with shades of emotions, she sticks to primary colors.
Surely, Godwin, an associate director at England’s National Theatre in his Broadway debut, is not solely to be blamed for the heavy-handed use of black actors as the upwardly mobile descendants of Chekhov’s serfs. Instead of colorblind nontraditional casting as we know it today, this decision goes for the literal, banging Chekhov’s indirect complexity on the head with obvious parallels.
Harold Perrineau plays the new-monied Lopakhin with straightforward enjoyment of his status. John Glover is touchingly Chekhovian as Ranevskaya’s oblivious brother. Celia Keenan-Bolger has a haunting lack of hope as the long-suffering adopted daughter, while Tavi Gevinson has a dewy wisdom as the younger daughter.
The sparse stylized sets by Scott Pask make lovely use of Calder-inspired mobiles as chandeliers and orchard leaves. Michael Krass’ costumes are deftly cruel in the separation of the elegant from the garish. And Nico Muhly’s incidental music, performed by a compelling musical trio, captures more of Chekhov’s language than do most of these crushingly uninteresting characters.