Imagine Anton Chekhov’s pithy, complex play The Cherry Orchard painted on a jigsaw puzzle. The scene looks like a familial 19th century portrait. Every piece fits. Now conceive of changing the surface image – omitting a few characters, adding translucent video – enlargements, text, drifting blossoms, the night sky – and a dominant white robotic arm which projects, serves coffee, exists as the single element withstanding time, and observes. Pieces still fit, but the image is buried in symbolism and tech.
Mikhail Baryshnikov’s vague, doddering, dedicated Firs, the serf who became a lifelong household servant, bookends what’s left of the original play. He’s credible and enchanting.
Mikhail Baryshnikov (Firs); Jessica Hecht (Lyubov Andreevna Ranevskaya)
An incandescent, somewhat mad Lyubov Ranevskaya (Jessica Hecht) returns from a love affair in Paris to face necessary auction of the family’s estate and surrounding cherry orchard, a symbol of pride and heritage. She and her sentimental brother Gaev (a solid, low key Mark Nelson) have been in denial so long, sale is imminent, last minute scrabbling useless. Neighbor and burgeoning capitalist Yermolai Lopakhin (uneven work by Nael Nacer) has tried to convince them to sell to someone who’ll repurpose the land for profitable bungalows. No one listens.
Trying to get foothold on their futures, Ranevskaya’s 17 year-old daughter, Anya (an effervescent Juliet Brett), apparently oblivious to impending loss, has naively thrown herself into the arms of student Trofimov, who’s portrayed as and, in fact, is deaf (John McGinty in the role.) One of the few moments of humor is Anya’s wild misinterpretation of Trofimov’s signing – super-titled on the scrim. Signing is rarely translated, French and Russian not at all.
Darya Denisova, Nael Nacer, Mark Nelson, Jessica Hecht, Juliet Brett, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Nael Nacer, Elise Kibler, John McGinty (Photo: Pavel Antonov)
Adopted daughter Varya (a subtle Elise Kibler) yearns for the elusive Lopakhin, who’s seemingly in thrall to her mother. Charlotta (Darya Denisova), Anya’s governess in the original iteration, has morphed into a Cirque du Soleil attempt at comic relief instead of a character who brightens the room with simple parlor tricks. Oh, and there’s a robotic dog – carried around too much.
Parentheses of excellent acting break through intermittently. If you’re unfamiliar with The Cherry Orchard, however, much of the piece will seem obscure. Because of the onslaught of often marvelous but completely distracting special effects, the play has little arc, relationships no depth. Later appearance of a threatening Russian is puzzling. One gathers it relates back to the situation in Ukraine- where the play evidently takes place.
(L to R) Nael Nacer and Jessica Hecht (Photo: Maria Baranova)
Anna Fedorova’s turquoise blue set, benches, plants and a floor of cut up tissue – cherry blossoms? – is lovely to look at. Costumes (Oana Botez) are striking and original, somehow melding history and the present. Hair and make-up completely suit (Anna Hrustaleva). Projection design by Alex Basco Koch is technically skillful and innovative, its consequences no fault of the purveyor.
Director Igor Golyak’s breadth of imagination and audacity is admirable, but he serves too much on one plate to leave any distinguishing taste.
Opening: L to R: John McGinty, Juliet Brett, Mark Nelson, Nael Nacer, Jessica Hecht, Elise Kibler, Darya Denisova (Photo: Pavel Antonov)
Arlekin Players Theatre Virtual Theatre Lab presents
Based on The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov as translated by Carl Rocamora Conceived and Directed by Igor Golyak
Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 west 37th Street
Through July 3, 2022