By Meredith Ganzman (@MGanzman)
“Don’t go to the theater,” Lyubov says. “Look at your own life more often.” It’s a seemingly ironic sentiment to express on a Broadway stage, considering Stephen Karam’s new adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s last play, The Cherry Orchard, does provide a window for such reflection.
The play opens as Lyubov Ranevskaya and her family who return home to turn of the century Russia, after five years in France, in order to save their destitute Cherry Orchard estate. For Diane Lane taking on the part of Lyubov is very much a homecoming as well. She returns to Broadway with the role for the first time since appearing in the ensemble of the play’s 1977 Lincoln Center Revival, alongside Irene Worth, Raul Julia and Meryl Streep.
Though the play is more than a century old, its themes hold up and Karam’s take feels all too relevant. Lyubov and her family are just trying to hold on, in denial of the changing times and their disappearing aristocracy. As America’s own middle class vanishes and income inequality grows, those with so much less than Lyubov have had to struggle to stay in their homes.
But the family has a chance to remain in their home and make their land profitable again. Visitor and businessman Lopakhin suggests clearing the orchard and building lots for summer cottages.
“Chop it down?’” Lyubov says, “My dear, forgive me, but you don’t seem to understand a thing. In this part of the country, if there’s anything of interest, or even noteworthy, it’s our cherry orchard.”
So instead the orchard will go up for auction. And when it does, the highest bidder is Lopakhin, who has risen up in society, the son of a former servant on the estate. Uncomfortable with his new acquisition, Lopakhin pleads to Lyubov, “Why didn’t you listen to me? Oh God…my dear friend…you can’t go back now.” Yet Anya, Lyubov’s daughter (Tavi Gevinson) is ready for them to move forward. “There’s so much life ahead for you,” she tries to console Lyubov, whose world is crumbling.
Lane’s Lyubov is sufficient, but lacks the strength to meet one of the theatre’s most famous matriarchs and does not add to a production which feels new and fresh. On the other hand, Harold Perrineau, most recognizable from television’s Lost, as Lopakhin is sympathetic in his estate takeover, rather than simply villainous. He tries to advise, if not warn, the family who ignored him.
As Lyubov and her family are finally leaving, Yasha, a servant (Maurice Jones) toasts, “To the departing! And God help those who stay!” Only remaining now is Firs, an elderly servant (Joel Grey), curled up on the floor, forgotten and alone- the world and home he once knew barren.
The Cherry Orchard plays the American Airlines Theatre through December 4.