THEATER REVIEW: The Bridge Project: The Cherry Orchard at BAM

The Bridge Project brings great actors from the U.S. and UK together for a great performance of The Cherry Orchard. Photo credit: Nick Heavican (l), Ellis Parrinder (r)

With stripped down, nearly minimalist sets and a focus on performance, the new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes, is both powerful and poignant to behold. The play is being presented as part of The Bridge Project, a 3-year collaboration between BAM, The Old Vic, and Neal Street Productions, and features talent from both England and the United States. Tony Award-winner Tom Stoppard’s new adaptation of the classic final work of Anton Chekhov feels very relevant in its questions of class, change, materialism, and ultimately what might be seen as the futility of our existence.

Anton Chekhov was 44 years old when the play first premiered on his birthday in Moscow and he passed away a few short weeks afterwards, so the play is understandably very contemplative on the nature of life and death itself. The story is based in part on his own life and the Cherry Orchard his family had to sell to repay their debts that was eventually cut-down to their dismay. The work is well known for its balance of humor and tragedy and this particular incarnation seems to handle the spectrum well. The cast of characters cover the gamut of personality making the work very accessible and the interaction goes one-step further as actors occasionally retreat from the stage through the aisles of the theater. The author goes as far as addressing the audience itself indirectly through Ranevskaya remarking that “people shouldn’t go to plays, they should spend the time looking in the mirror, at their grey lives and pointless conversations.”

With its few scattered pillows, chairs, and area rugs on stage, the actors become the focus and the ensemble rises to the occasion with striking performances. The transatlantic cast is wonderful, especially Richard Easton who is enlightening as Firs, the 87 year servant who longs for the clarity of the past in its clear social lines and expectations. Seasoned character actors Paul Jesson and Dakin Matthews are also fun to watch as Gaev and Simeonov-Pishchik, with their layers of old-world personality and unknowing humor. Ethan Hawke fits perfectly in the role of the overly intellectual Trofimov and his relationship with Anya, played by Morven Christie, represents hope in the future. The all-important role of Ranevskaya is well handled by Sinéad Cusack carefully balancing between reminiscent, bourgeoisie delirium, and occasional bouts of reality.

The Cherry Orchard is thought provoking and moving, forcing its audience to hold up a mirror at themselves as they watch a cast of characters who seem to avoid it at every turn. The performances run through March 8 at BAM’s Harvey Theater and its well worth the price.

Tim Needles

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