Full bloom

By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 26, 2006

Neighboring landowner Semyonov-Pischik (Fred Sullivan Jr.) shamelessly, though laughingly, keeps begging Lovey for a loan to salvage his own dire circumstance, though he knows that she also is in financial crisis. He and other minor characters collectively acquire substantial thematic weight. Governess Charlotta (Anne Scurria) laments being alone in the world, earlier offhandedly, eventually in hysteria. Bookkeeper Yepihodov (Stephen Berenson) foolishly pledges his love to the sunny maid Dunyasha (Angela Brazil). But she is pinning her hopes on the brooding servant Yasha (Mauro Hantman), whose assessment of his fellow man (“I can’t stand the ignorance — everywhere I look!”) is even bleaker than the student Trofimov’s. Putting all this in perspective is the 87-year-old servant Firs (Barbara Meek), to whom serfdom represented the good old days of order and mutual responsibility between the classes.

Times were a-changin’ in the Russia of 1903-04, with revolution looming. Back in 1861 the serfs — referred to by Columbus as slaves, for the proper wallop — were freed. The lower classes are bloody poorer but unbowed. So by now servant Yasha (Hantman so delivers here) is squeaking through tears of laughter when he says to the aristocratic Leonid that “just the sound of your voice makes me laugh!” Most importantly, the self-consciously ill-educated merchant Lopakin can hardly get over the fact that his father and grandfather were “slaves” on this very land. His response is hardly Bolshevik but rather generosity — and joyful appreciation. Wilson plays him as a man who still can’t believe his good fortune. Casting an African-American as Lopakin is smart — and poignantly resonant — but Wilson transcends that parallel, making this character the heart and soul of the play. (Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t already know the ending.) Joy and regret whipsaw Lopakin in an extended reaction when he tells of being the one to buy the estate, accomplishing one of the most successfully sustained, and complexly modulated, jobs of acting I’ve ever witnessed. For a little bonus, his reconciling such opposites is the bittersweet history of Mother Russia herself.

Likewise, Kay has Lovey hold herself together through sheer will, her worry and carefree abandon like opposing magnetic poles forced together. And Lovey’s financial largess to her neighbor and others, treating all like comrades-in-alms, is out of full heart rather than foolishness. That’s the crux of this play, the director shows us. Big-hearted people are by nature hopeful. The buoyant, vodka-toast spirit of the Russians — Act Three opens with an explosion of high-kicking dancing in the background — pervades even the mournful moments of this Cherry Orchard.

Apparently, Columbus has encouraged each actor to not hold back the emotions of these doomed, exuberant people. In behavior we can relate to these days, they are not so much fiddling while Rome burns as playing for time.

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Related: Rethinking Chekhov, Hello, Columbus, The mind’s eye, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Joe Wilson, Mauro Hantman, Stephen Berenson,  More more >
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