Chekhov for the 21st century, Australian-style. That's what director Howard Davies and adaptor Andrew Upton have delivered with this production of "The Cherry Orchard" from Australia's biggest theater company. With STC artistic director Robyn Nevin reprising a role she last performed 16 years ago at the Melbourne Theater Company, the ensemble is tight and settled into their roles, but the production is wanting.

A correction was made to this review on Jan. 3, 2006.

Chekhov for the 21st century, Australian-style. That’s what director Howard Davies and adaptor Andrew Upton have delivered with this production of “The Cherry Orchard” from Australia’s biggest theater company. With STC artistic director Robyn Nevin reprising a role she last performed 16 years ago at the Melbourne Theater Company, the ensemble is tight and settled into their roles, but the production is wanting.

Davies and Upton set out to contemporize a play penned in Russian a century ago. Upton has cranked up the pace, removed much of the nuance and injected the script with a plain-speaking sitcom quality designed to ease digestion for modern audiences.

But in Disneyfying Chekhov, he has removed the stillness and texture that characterize the Russian’s work, substituting an unfamiliar kinetic energy. Much is lost. Some words are laboured, used repeatedly in the same scene — as happens in real conversation — while elsewhere words fall off actors’ tongues as if they’re reading a thesaurus.

“The Cherry Orchard” becomes the tale of a family’s pecuniary descent rather than a study of human frailty in the face of enormous upheaval.

Given what they’re working with, the actors are unable to shine. Nevin, in particular, does not deliver the broad, standout perf observed all those years ago on the Playhouse stage at the Victorian Arts Center.

With the Opera House Drama Theater undergoing renovations, “The Cherry Orchard” is occupying the intimate stage of Wharf One; because of limited seating, the season is largely sold out.

Auds unfamiliar with traditional Chekhov might enjoy this rendering by Upton, who is forging a considerable career with the STC. “The Cherry Orchard” is his fourth adaptation for the company; his debut script, “The Hanging Man,” was produced by STC second-string company Blueprints. He next makes his directorial debut with Blueprints’ new incarnate, Wharf 2loud, and later this year will direct a double bill of Harold Pinter’s “A Kind of Alaska” and David Mamet’s “Reunion” with his wife, Cate Blanchett, for STC.

The Cherry Orchard

Sydney Theater Company, Wharf One Theater; 324 Seats; A$60 ($44) Top

Production

A Sydney Theater Company presentation of a play in three acts by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Andrew Upton. Directed by Howard Davies. Choreography, Gavin Robbins.

Creative

Sets, Fiona Crombie; lighting, Damien Cooper; music, Paul Charlier; production stage manager, Jo Maund. Opened Dec. 17, 2005. Reviewed Dec. 20. Running time: 3 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast

Varya - Lucy Bell Firs - Peter Carroll Gaev - John Gaden Simyonov-Pischik - Pip Miller Ranyevskaya - Robyn Nevin Dunyasha - Gwyneth Price Lopakhin - Philip Quast Charlotta - Pamela Rabe Yasha - Andy Rodoreda Yepihodov - Justin Smith Trofimov - Dan Spielman Station master - Cameron Stewart Anya - Anna Torv
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