T. Schreiber Studio produces a new revival of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Carol Rocamora. Though by no means terrible, the production lacks strong acting.
Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee
Revivals are tricky business for lazy actors. Audiences—especially those at T. Schreiber Studio—are likely to have seen some version of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard before (though perhaps not Carol Rocamora’s translation), so comparisons will be made. The Cherry Orchard centers on the Ranevskaya family, as they return to their beloved estate, which has been mortgaged and soon to be auctioned. The play is a comment on materialism and its shortcomings, using the family matriarch Madame Ranevskaya as its prime example. For some, like the excellent Julie Garfield, that’s fine: her Madame Ranevskaya is an organic triumph, from her nonchalance over her estate’s pending auction to her tragic memories of her dead son. But for actors like Jamie Kirmser, that’s bad: he interprets the iconic Lopakhin’s idiosyncrasies with the generalities of a weatherman.
Terry Schreiber and Carol Rocamore attempt to bring heartbreaking humor to this classic play. Perhaps this is an attempt at a unique interpretation of the text. Yet, many of these iconic characters are played one-dimensionally, diminishing the actors’ believability. Lopakhin (Jamie Kirmser) says at one point, “I don’t know what to do with my hands; isn’t it strange, look, they’re hanging there as if they belonged to someone else.” Kirmser seems to have interpreted this as always gesturing like a weatherman whenever he is on stage as Lopakhin. Instead of his movements being a small aspect of his character, it seems to define it and we can concentrate on little else. A stark contrast is Peter Judd as the butler Firs. Judd’s Firs twitches his face and seems to mouth things to himself as he stands in the background. Even when he is the focus of a scene, his movements are not distracting. Instead it is a perfect example of incorporating external attributes in a way that appears natural. Marcus Lorenzo as Trofimov is also very one-dimensional. He delivers his lines with a whininess befitting a petulant child. It is difficult to believe he is the idealistic, philosophical student of intellectualism when he sounds like a poor caricature of Malcolm X.
Though it seems unfair to censure the actors in this production, a successful revival of such a classic play relies on the quality of the acting. The actors are overly theatrical; they try too hard to create intense moments, instead of internalizing their characters and letting moments occur organically within the script. Even the near-proposal of Lopakhin to Varya at the end is made too comical for such a dramatic moment. The high stakes for Varya are undermined by the ridiculousness of watching Lopakhin’s failed attempts at kneeling to propose and then switching legs when it appears his legs are uncooperative. Sadly, the magic tricks performed by Charlotta (Julia Szabo) in Act Two are more believable than the actors in this production.
When audiences attend a theatrical production, they are aware that what they witness on stage is not real; when someone dies on stage, it is the character and not the actor who dies. Yet it is when the audience is able to forget their reality and become invested in what they witness on stage that a production succeeds. Shakespeare termed this phenomenon a suspension of disbelief. T. Schreiber Studio’s production is by no means terrible, but the suspension of disbelief in The Cherry Orchard takes a while to kick in. It is difficult to become invested in these characters and in the story when it is quite clear that the actors are acting.
The Cherry Orchard (approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, one 10-minute intermission)
The Gloria Maddox Theater, 151 W26th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenue)
Tickets: $25 (www.tschreiber.org)
Performances: through April 4, 2010 (Thursday through Sunday at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM)
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