The troupe has previously presented Szász's urgent, atmospheric interpretations of Mother Courage, Uncle Vanya, and Desire Under the Elms, as well as his staging of Peter Weiss's already extreme Marat/Sade. Here the director works with some of the same fine actors, among them Mickey Solis, who played O'Neill's anguished son of the New England soil smitten with his stepmother, and ART stalwart Karen MacDonald, who embodied Brecht's indomitable parasite on the back of the Thirty Years War. The two portray the raging Konstantin and his vain, tight-fisted mom, Irina Arkadina, who's torn between an overwrought, apologetic love for her son and the sheer inconvenience of him.
Prowling the stage accessorized by chains and itching to use his gun, Solis is an explosive, commanding presence; curled with his mom in near-fetal embrace, he is a touchingly neglected child. And MacDonald, garbed by David Zinn in a series of sadly sexy get-ups, captures her character's bewilderment as well as, in the over-the top scene where she chases Brian Dykstra's wimpy Trigorin up and down a mountain of suitcases, Arkadina's romantic desperation. Molly Ward, in very short skirts and with a naive ecstasy that resolves itself into perseverance, is an unusually guttural but effective Nina. All of the actors, in fact, manage to hold onto their humanity — Chekhov's great gift to his characters — while negotiating the drenching, possibly renewing storm of Szász's imagination.
It wouldn't do to pour rain on The Corn Is Green, and the Huntington Theatre Company's gratifying revival of Emlyn Williams's semi-autobiographical 1938 play (at the Boston University Theatre through February 8) is as bright as a sunny day in rural Wales — swollen by gorgeous choral singing (in Welsh and English) and shadowed by the coal mines. Former artistic director Nicholas Martin, who's as adept at unlocking the warmth of old-fashioned works as he is at etching the savage cartoons of Christopher Durang, helms the production, which originated at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2007. And three-time Tony nominee Kate Burton reprises her turn as brisk, fervent educator L.C. Moffat, playing opposite her son, a hulking yet sensitive Morgan Ritchie as Morgan Evans, the rum-loving miner's son whose capable brain Miss Moffat stuffs with learning while putting a gleam on his rough edges, mapping a path for him out of the dead end of his origins, and prying open his writer's imagination with her schoolmarm's crowbar.
Most people know The Corn Is Green from its film incarnations, which field Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn as the bicycling, no-nonsense angel of literacy who inherits a house in a late-19th-century Welsh village and arrives gung-ho to challenge the landed gentry's ideas about education and class — to wit, that the Welsh-speaking sons of miners leave school at 12 to go underground, turning themselves into buckled old men by 20, while the privileged earn or buy themselves degrees. But the play is both deeper and wittier than the films, and it holds a particular resonance for the Burton-Ritchie clan. Richard Burton (himself the protûgû of an exceptional teacher who pulled him by his larynx out of the mines) played Morgan Evans in 1947 and later made the playwright godfather to his daughter Kate.