“I went to the theater last night, saw a very funny play,” begins peasant-turned-businessman Lopakhin (Simon Russell Beale). “I bet it wasn’t,” snaps cash-strapped landowner Liubov Andreevna (Sinéad Cusack). “People shouldn’t go to plays. They should spend the time looking in the mirror, at their gray lives and pointless conversations.”
Of course, that is precisely why we’re at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater for director Sam Mendes’ staggering Cherry Orchard. The man holding the looking glass is Anton Chekhov, with a supremely smart assist from Tom Stoppard, who’s made something of a second career adapting Chekhov plays — he did Ivanov last fall in London for Kenneth Branagh, and in 2001 his Seagull brought Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and record crowds to NYC’s Central Park. The other reason we’re at BAM: the Bridge Project, a transatlantic theatrical exchange program courtesy of BAM, Kevin Spacey’s Old Vic, and Mendes’ Neal Street Productions.
Debate the merits of the Brits versus the Americans all you like, the cast is top-drawer. Beale is simply the best leading man the U.K. has to offer; Rebecca Hall — seen on screen to more glamorous effect in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Frost/Nixon — plays dowdy brilliantly; and The Coast of Utopia veteran Ethan Hawke adds another scruffy Russian intellectual to his repertoire. Next up for the Bridge Project at BAM: a Mendes-directed Winter’s Tale. We’re counting on gray lives, pointless conversations, and something very funny. (Tickets: 718.636.4100 or bam.org) A?