The Cherry Orchard
The Art Theatre of Puget Sound at Cedar Park Studios, 568-5893. Through March 11.

I doubt I've ever seen a play where the hand of the director--in this case, Leonid Anisimov, a teacher at Freehold--has so clearly marked the acting. In this production of Chekhov's last play, each actor, each line, drips slowly, very slowly, almost viscously, almost Butoh-ly, with the Stanislavsky acting method. This quiet, pause-heavy performance style works for a while, but after that while it wears. Chekhov did, after all, call this and many of his other plays comedies--no evidence of comedy here.

What this production of The Cherry Orchard does have is lots of visual beauty. The set is one of the most exquisite interior spaces I've ever seen in Seattle. (Think St. Ignatius Chapel; think that James Turrell show at CoCA in the mid-'80s.) With a series of rice-paper screens inspired by Japanese design, and a long table covered in white, designer Sergey Aksyonov suggests the kind of dusky, end-of-an-era forced intimacy in which these turn-of-the-l9th- 20th-century characters live.

The action starts in the dark. The nouveau riche Lopahin, who represents the rising merchant class that is displacing the land-rich, cash-poor, downwardly mobile Russian aristocracy, is played with convincing schlumpiness by Michael Perrone. Lopahin mumbles about sleeping late and not being smart enough to stay engaged with a book. During his mutterings, the maid Dunyasha, played by Barbara Svoboda, lights the few candles that provide the only light--this production is about not seeing clearly, not hearing what is going on right next to you, and not having a quick response. It's about uncomfortable silence. Thematically this makes some sense for the play, but there's a monotone to some of the acting that just doesn't make sense for the characters. As Lyubov, the woman whose family estate and cherry orchard are being sold, Amy Maguire is fine as a beautiful, formerly wealthy lady who just can't understand that her prettiness and charm won't pay the bills. But she does the sighing woman too much; I kept waiting for something to change in her, the way that, even in Chekhov's most subtle texts, something always does. In contrast, Stacey Lind plays Lyubov's plain adopted daughter Varya with more range, capturing the sadness and frustration of her economic and erotic powerlessness. Bart Smith, as Lyubov's brother Gayev, conveys the smoldering anger beneath the former landowner's good manners.

I can't imagine most American audiences would enjoy this heavily stylized production, but I'll bet fans of the Stanislavsky method--and folks who want theater to be intensely intimate--will.

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