Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey a.d. Bonnie J. Monte shelved her original plans to produce Tennessee Williams’ “Night of the Iguana” when she realized she had assembled a perfect cast for Anton Chekhov’s final comedy, “The Cherry Orchard.” Gathering an impressive roster, she also captures the joy and desperation of wasted lives with a disciplined tempo and an emotionally valid vision of czarist Russia’s fading old order. Monte has staged a haunting evocation of a 19th-century estate and its world-weary inhabitants.
Laila Robins offers a subtly vital performance as Mme. Ranevskaya, balancing her naivete and impractically frivolous nature with deep sorrow over the loss of her precious son. She brings a vibrant presence to the role. Gaev, an aging remnant from a long-gone romantic era, is played by Edmond Genest with a cavalier attitude and weathered charm. His sobbing resignation that all is gone is a touching portrait of deep despair.
As the peasant-born financier Lopakhin, Sherman Howard adds a blunt, practical portrait, and his unbridled joy when he gains control of the orchard is a big, booming revelation.
The absurdly ardent philosophical student Trofimof is acted explosively by Robbie Collier Sublett. Erin Partin’s willowy Anya, the Varya of Alison Weller, and Stephanie Roth Haberle as a governess with a few tricks up her sleeve, all combine to provide a tender autumnal family portrait.
Monte has united her actors as vital inhabitants of the same time and place, and her adaptation has a lovely balance of spirit and melancholy.
The old family retainer, Fiers, is played by Jim Mohr with doddering wit — one can very nearly hear his bones rattle and crack. His sweet final moment, alone in the old manor house after everyone has left, is positively numbing.
Maggie Dick’s nicely tailored costumes boast a modestly muted texture that defines both period and environment. A cradling lighting design complements the coldly modest interior, accented by an upstage glimpse of a ravishing rose garden.
The production is dedicated to the memory of Dana Reeve, a member of the acting company since 1993 and former trustee.