Dianne Wiest, who starred in Classic Stage Company’s 2008 production of The Seagull, returns to close out the CSC’s cycle of four Chekhov productions in The Cherry Orchard, the Russian playwright’s great 1904 drama in which the old social order is chopped down while a bewildered, depleted aristocracy dithers and mourns.
Wiest plays Madame Ranevskaya, the proud lady, fallen on old times, whose debt-ridden estate (and its magnificent cherry orchard) represent everything being uprooted in Russia at the turn of the 20th century. And the casting choice is apt: Wiest has always been Chekhovian in her ability to portray mature women touched by sadness.
The play itself balances on a teetering point between tragedy and a kind of absurdist comedy: In his time, the playwright himself encouraged the comic while, at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1904, director Constantin Stanislavski mined the tragic.
Here, Romanian-born director Andrei Belgrader splits the difference, resulting in a diffuse production that’s more interesting in its bits and pieces of staging and acting than affecting in its evocation of social change. John Turturro goes from loud to louder as Lopakhin, the pitilessly practical businessman, painfully aware that he’s the son of a former serf on the estate. Katherine Waterston plays Ranevskaya’s 17-year-old daughter, Anya, with a touch of the spoiled princess, while the actress’ sister, Elisabeth (both daughters of veteran actor Sam Waterston) turns the housemaid, Dunyasha, into a girlish bubblehead who actually twists her hands and turns her toes inward in nervous excitement.
In the background, Roberta Maxwell is amusing as the eccentric governess, Ivanovna (though she seems to be in her own Brechtian production), while Alvin Epstein turns the aged manservant Fiers — who was happiest in the days when masters were masters and servants were servants — into a fellow who might be happiest in a play by Beckett.
The characters trail in and out of the four corners of scenic designer Santo Loquasto’s inventively spare set as if blown by the same winds that rattle Chekhov’s fruit trees. The effect is as scattered as downed leaves. B
(Tickets: ClassicStage.org or 866-811-4111)