By Anton Chekhov
Directed by Michael Menendian
Translated by Jean-Claude van Itallie
At the Raven Theatre
Chekhov’s Comedy Needs Sobering
Anton Chekhov is arguably the best playwright since Shakespeare; he is unequivocally one of the great playwrights of history. The Raven Theatre, with Michael Menendian at the helm, has decided to try their hand at his last, and (according to Chekhov himself) funniest play – with mixed results.
The most egregious faults with the play can firmly be placed upon the director’s doorstep. The humor was emphasized, but it was far too broad. The laughter on-stage was too much from the belly, to the point of phoniness. The characterizations were generally over-simple. But most of all, Menendian failed to realize the intimacy of the play and the deaf ear each person turns to every other. He has his characters deliver apostrophes, talking to the audience, when they should be talking to themselves. They break the fourth wall almost continuously in the first act. It feels wrong: these people are not talking to us, they are not letting us into their lives; we are observers, and they are talking to themselves – since no one else is listening. This brought the play to its knees. It struggled under Menendian’s direction.
Which is not to say it is not without its merits. Although heavily cut, the production leaves the substance of the play largely intact. Several people on stage give solid performances. The sets, costumes, and technical aspects of the production, in general, are quite strong. Also, it’s The Cherry Orchard – so the source material is undeniably rich and wonderful.
David Adams as the old servant Firs gives a typically strong performance; Ron Quade is solid as Leonid Andreyevich Gayev, brother of the matriarch Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya, played by Joann Montemurro. She does a fine job, but she is ultimately unconvincing in the role because she simply does not look like a woman who has the charms Lyubov would: which is to say, she has no glamour about her; she looks very much like a stocky Russian peasant. Sophia Menendian is an adequate Anya, and Jason Huysman finely plays opposite her as the student Pishchik. Some of the cast is less impressive.
Basically, this is a very mediocre production. If someone has never seen Chekhov, it’s a decent enough introduction: the source material is good enough, and the production is passable enough that you’re still seeing The Cherry Orchard. And it is not the sullen affair some misinterpret the play to be. But it is by no means an outstanding or even a particularly strong production – and this, again, I lay firmly at the director’s feet. He simply mishandled the play.
Reviewed on 6.5.11
For full show information, go to TheatreinChicago.
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $20-$40, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm, running time 130 minutes with intermission, through July 23rd.