There’s a fine line between laughter and tears in The Cherry Orchard, the last, and arguably trickiest, play by Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov. The author himself called it “a comedy in four acts,” yet its entire premise — the sale of a family’s beloved estate, the unwitting demise of the Russian aristocracy (to say nothing of bankruptcy, unrequited love, and imminent death)—is undeniably tragic.
Yet from the start, the Roundabout Theatre Company’s loud, broad revival — working with a new adaptation by Stephen Karam, a Tony winner for the Chekhovian drama The Humans — makes no attempt to find a tragicomic balance. A worker blundering about in squeaky boots (Quinn Mattfeld) and a pratfall-prone maid (Susannah Flood) prove more memorable in the first scene than Lopakhin (Harold Perrineau of Lost and The Matrix fame), the peasant-turned-businessman with a vested interest in the cherry orchard. The garrulous Gaev (an overly fussy John Glover), brother to the broke-but-not-broken estate owner Lyubov Ranevskaya (Oscar nominee Diane Lane), gets way too excited by a 100-year-old bookcase. Plus, don’t miss the visual gag of the jolly, barrel-chested Pischik (Chuck Cooper) attempting to descend delicately onto a child’s nursery chair.
Yet not everyone seems to have received director Simon Godwin’s go-big-or-go-home memo. Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey (the original Emcee in Cabaret) is indescribably endearing, and quietly funny, in the small but significant role of the aged servant Firs. Celia Keenan Bolger (The Glass Menagerie, Peter and the Starcatcher) is giving a beautifully understated, unadorned performance as the industrious Varya, Ranevskaya’s adopted daughter. And Kyle Beltran is shaggily endearing as Trofimov, the perpetual student/naive revolutionary.
As for Lane, her performance, still a bit tentative, falls somewhere in between. She’s found Ranevskaya’s compassion; this is a woman who, without thinking, throws gold coins to vagrants and lends money to a friend to pay his mortgage when she can’t cover her own. But she hasn’t yet discovered the character’s depths (she has a dark past, which includes a man she likens to “a heavy stone around my neck”).
Moreover, there’s precious little connection between her and Perrineau. Lopakhin grew up as a servant in Ranevskaya’s house! That’s what makes Lopakhin’s brilliant (or so he thinks) business solution — raze the orchard and build summer cottages — so insensitive. Lopahkin should be a bit of an outsider; he grew up poor, his father was a drunk. Mostly, Perrineau just looks uncomfortable. As do too many other people on stage. C-