By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Small things in the script nag, however. Liao talks up a case for selling Xia’s estate to builders who are eager to erect new communities for workers and miners, but it’s hard to imagine there being a private construction boom in China during a worldwide depression, at a time when war loomed with Japan and with the Commu-
nists in open revolt. (In fact, modern China, with its emergent middle class, its newfound materialism and go-go speculators, would seem a more appropriate setting.) Yew hasn’t made A Winter People as perfect an Asian transplant as his Filipino adaptation of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba; however, The Cherry Orchard has a lot more baggage to move. Without running through a list of comparisons between the two plays, let it be said that Yew both condenses aspects of Chekhov while elaborating on his own Chinese setting, with the result that, with two hours and 30 minutes of stage time, it seems longer than it needs to be.
For one thing, Yew has problems explaining Chinese history without making it sound like exposition. Would a character like Liao really have to explain the opium wars to his listeners? Is it really necessary to have Wei recite Mao’s oft-quoted line cautioning against confusing revolutions with dinner parties? Yew might also have considered twice before having a Mao-suited Liang take the stage, at the end of Act 2, to sing and roil a red flag as though she’d strayed from a rehearsal for The Red Detachment of Women.
And here we butt up against the problem of predicting the past. Chekhov’s contemporary bourgeois were clueless about what to do or about what might be headed their way — and this is what makes them so compelling. Yew’s latter-day landowners, however, are not only living on top of a civil war and Japanese incursions, they have Mao quoted to them. If we feel the urge to shout at Chekhov’s characters, Yew’s are already being lectured.
My other quibble with this production is that Yew never encourages his cast members to really make his lines their own. Instead, they deliver dialogue that sounds read — or rather, dubbed — as though from some antiquated Constance Garnett translation of Chekhov. While the readings aren’t wooden, we seldom feel we are listening to anything more than actors reciting pages from a script. This may or may not have been a directorial choice, because A Winter People falls in line with so many productions seen locally in which a play’s words sound like dialogue instead of conversation, and emotions are translated, not shared.
A WINTER PEOPLE| Adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchardby CHAY YEW | At the THEATER@BOSTON COURT, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena | (626) 683-6883 | Runs through September 19