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| show usyour chekhov |


By Miriam Weisfeld

Any production ofChekhov inMoscow isbound tobedwarfed bythe original. The CherryOrchard that traveled tothe Golden Mask Festival from Omsk acknowledges this literally. Huge photographs ofthe original MXAT cast are projected behind the live actors inthe early scenes. This isboth nod totradition and ameta-theatrical comment onthe play?s theme. Just asChekhov experts revere production history, Chekhov?s characters are soenamored oftheir family?s past that they cannot change topreserve their legacy inthe present.

But lest the projections seem like aone-note gimmick, the images and staging evolve asthe show progresses toprovoke questions ofinterpretation. When the dialogue mentions Paris, vintage newsreel ofthe Eiffel Tower appears. When Petya mentions the drowning ofyoung Grisha, wesee agrainy black-and-white home movie ofboys diving into alake. Projections ofimages tocompliment ascene are commonplace enough today toappear pedestrian. But this production pairs them with adesign that allows the technical elements toreinvent the stately pace ofthe play.

When young Anya and her guardians return home, the servants greet them with folk-singing, but asoundtrack ofcontemporary blues drowns them out. Black-and-white images ofLopakhin cavorting with servant girls inabath interrupt his greetings with subtextual suggestions that color the rest ofthe scene. The actors proceed with their realistic performances, but aturntable onthe stage makes them recede asthe grainy images loom above. When their voices seem toreach anoptimistic pitch, the melancholy soundtrack intrudes abruptly. Far from making the story appear dated, this blatantly artificial frame ofthe past creates astatement about the perils ofnostalgia that feels very modern.

The production?s meta-theatrical mischief reaches ahigh point with anintermission that seems tocome too early. The curtain closes and the house lights come upbefore Anya and Petya have finished their scene. Finding themselves alone for the first time-out of sight from both the family and the audience-they breathlessly continue speaking their lines behind the curtain. Atthis point, some playgoers retreat tothe lobby; other spectators who remain intheir seats feel like eavesdroppers. This moment ofyouthful rebellion exists outside the nostalgic frame ofthe play, and suggests that the real future oflove may not beseen onthis stuffy stage atall.

By the second act, black-and-white live feed ofthe actors onstage has replaced historical footage. Moody close-ups of the older characters imply that their performances are entering the historical canon asthey speak. The revolving stage and multiple intermissions continue tochop uptheir leisurely scenes; time, asweknow, isnot ontheir side.

In the final scene, when Lopakhin announces the number ofminutes until the family?s train departs, the huge screen replaces its sentimental images with numbers counting down the minutes, seconds, and dizzying milliseconds inreal time. This childishly simple device somehow adds heartrending suspense tothe final bits ofdialogue. Although the actors play them with restrained realism, their clumsy attempts tosave Varya?s love and Firs? life acquire urgency before awhirring digital clock.

The clock runs out, Firs isleft behind, and the screen fills with avideo image, this time incolor. The hands and feet offigures inevening dress appear asthey hurry out ofwhat looks like atheatre and step into awaiting limousine. Aweary saxophone wails asthe car recedes. Has the cast, already made celebrities ofakind, progressed tofilm? Oristhis the audience returning toits bourgeois life inthe present? All ofthese technical devices have been seen inmany productions many times before. But their soulful and provocative combination here draws anundeniably striking portrait ofalost past that might beanelegy for live theatre itself. Ascinematic credits roll onscreen toabluesy beat, Omsk asks Moscow, Where’syour Chekhov now?