The Cherry Orchard

A country estate is on the auction block and a new order is around the corner in Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," making it an appropriate last tenant for the Williamstown Theater Fes's Adams Theater. Michael Greif's production is competently acted, but it doesn't capture the depth and complexity of the play's characters.

A country estate is on the auction block and a new order is around the corner in Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” making it an appropriate last tenant for the Williamstown Theater Festival’s Adams Theater, itself readying for a major revamp. Michael Greif’s production is competently acted, but it doesn’t capture the depth and complexity of the play’s characters. Sometimes they strikes poses, sometimes they give speeches, but rarely do they touch the heart.

The gifted Linda Emond is grand and irrepressible as the self-involved Ranevskaya. This spirited, charming, sensual woman is so self-obsessed that she’s oblivious to the suffering of those around her, including her adopted daughter. Even her florid pronouncements about her beloved house and cherry orchard ring hollow: Leaving at last, she doesn’t even look back. Emond understands the outline of this shallow but compelling soul, even if she has yet to fill in all the colors.

Reed Birney, as her callous, blowhard brother, a man who has more passion for inanimate objects than real people, strikes all the major notes, but he, too, misses the minor chords.

And it’s not entirely clear how Jessica Chastain, as Ranevskaya’s daughter, is won over by the heartfelt politics of the student played with gusto but few underpinnings by Chris Messina.

The most fascinating — and exasperating — performance comes from Ritchie Coster, who is both strange and riveting as Lopakhin, the one-time serf, now nouveau riche businessman who is ill at ease in his new clothes, and perhaps his own skin. He is mesmerizing as he struggles with his mixed feelings of pain and pleasure of triumphing over his family’s one-time masters. But his odd accent and sometimes muddied diction don’t work well in the large and acoustically challenged Adams hall. (Certain elements of this old theater won’t be missed at all.)

Michelle Williams gives a nuanced perf as Emond’s daughter Varya; she’s especially heartbreaking in the scene in which she anticipates a proposal and gets a goodbye. Also making strong impressions are Jessica Stone as the lively maid Dunyasha and Frank Raiter as the senile servant Firs. Lee Wilkof, as a neighboring landowner, scores in his final scene, when his unctuous character turns honorable.

Williamstown has come up with yet another striking set, this time by Allen Moyer, who has fashioned a world that is both spare and detailed. Sets include a graceful suggestion of a grand ballroom, a countryside escape near railroad tracks and a row of fully realized cherry trees that impressively rolls out (though their blossoms strangely linger from May to October).

Greif gets carried away with his ability to throw platoons of interns and extras on stage; nonspeaking parts number 22. And his crowded tableau vivant at the play’s end — workman chopping down trees as children and locals watch the scene — robs the dying Firs, and Chekhov, of the play’s final ache.

The Cherry Orchard

Adams Memorial Theater, Williamstown, Mass.; 520 seats; $50 top

  • Production: A Williamstown Theater Festival presentation of a play in two acts by Anton Chekhov, translated by Paul Schmidt. Directed by Michael Greif.
  • Crew: Sets, Allen Moyer; costumes, Ilona Somogyi; lighting, James Ingalls; sound, Matthew Burton; music and music coordination, Michael Friedman; choreography, Sandra L. Burton; stage manager, Kelley Kirkpatrick; production manager, Christopher Akins. Opened Aug. 12, 2004. Reviewed Aug. 14. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.
  • Cast: Liubov Ranyevskaya - Linda Emond Anya - Jessica Chastain Varya - Michelle Williams Leonid Gayev - Reed Birney Yermolai Lopakhin - Ritchie Coster Petya Trofimov - Chris Messina Boris Semyonov-Pischik - Lee Wilkof Carlotta - Brenda Wehle Semyon Yepikhodov - Jonathan Fried Dunyasha - Jessica Stone Firs - Frank Raiter Yasha - Jason Kaufman Stationmaster - John Forest <b>With:</b> Jessie Austrian, Mare Baynard, Keith Blaser, Louis Gruber, Michelle Slonim, Reginald Veneziano, Lee Briggs, Olivia Choate, Morgan Cox, Amir Levi, Alex Marshall, Wil Petre, Christopher Riccio, Evan Shafran, Ben Sinclair, Brian Smolin, David Their, Powder Thompson, Hannah Paul, Olivia Shultz, Tyler Stanton, Warren Taylor.