June 25, 2022
A metal grey cyclopean robot commands center stage in The Orchard, Igor Golyak's adaptation of Chekov's The Cherry Orchard at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.
Immersed in filtered white light (by Yuki Link) and a scattering of snow, the characters file in looking quite vulnerable next to the machine.
Reunited to determine the future fate of their country estate and glorious cherry orchard, the financially weary aristocratic Russian family, headed by Ranevskaya (Jessic Hect), attempt to cope with this time of impending loss. Raised on the estate and the grandson of a serf, Lopakhin (Nael Nacer) is the only one realistically assessing impending options and consequences. In one generation he's gone from peasant to businessman, so he understands how quickly an aristocrat's fortune can change.
Surrounded by a family loosely connected to reality, Ranevskaya's mind wanders from the drowning of her seven year-old son in the nearby river, to unspoken passions, and daydreams of a place that is no more.
Old and young roam the grounds consumed by worries, and fantasies, unrequited love and anxiety. Caught in their own spheres of deception, the family is forced to face reality when served with foreclosure papers. Lopakhin begs them to save their inheritance by breaking up the estate into consumable plots. Unable to visualize such a future, they give up and Lopakhin purchases the estate at auction with plans to build summer cabins for the newly rising middle class.
A strong ensemble cast features Ranevskaya's wayward brother Leonid (Mark Nelson), the daughters Anya (Julie Brett) and Varya (Elise Kibler), the idealistic Pyotir Trofimov (John McGinty) and Anya's governess, Charlotta (Darya Denisova) -- who delights all with her magic tricks and innocent clowning.
Compressed into a two hour production, the central robot morphs into -- among other things--a telescope and projector. Images float through the dark, hallucinatory space designed by Anna Fedorova with lights by Yuki Nakase Link. Although I didn't experience it, audiences can view the play on-line and engage with some extra backstage perks.
The dystopian environment eliminates The Cherry Orchard's usual realistic set fringed with cherry blossoms, a ramshackled wooden estate and the omnipresent samovar.
Golyak's production incorporates disorienting elements, from the technological intrusions to the several languages (including ASL) spoken for brief spells with no translation.
Intellectually, it's possible to relate these unfathomable disruptions to czarist Russia's reaction to the 1917 Revolution, and the rise of Lenin followed by the age of Stalin. Or maybe it points to today's horrifying dissociative Russian war on Ukraine.
Either way, those production elements aren't as potent as Baryhshnikov's stooped body, bent low after years of carrying luggage and tending to the grounds or Hecht's breathy, nearly non corporeal existence. It's the people of The Orchard who touch you and who haunt you.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis