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
Molina’s Cockney Lopakhin, so marvelously self-possessed, even in torment, is in a different production from the comparatively mannered ensemble, which winds up looking “Chekhovian” — a lugubrious strain to appear light and spontaneous in dark circumstances. The best productions of Chekhov I’ve seen have been acted by ensembles that have worked together for years, or have at least rehearsed for months, economically impossible in our commercial and regional theaters, unless a producer imports such a company. This did occur on Broadway 10 years ago with Moscow’s glorious Sovremmenik Theater and their productions of Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. Chekhov might fare well in L.A. with an imaginative director working with some of our better resident ensembles in the smaller theaters that can afford to take their time: Pacific Resident Theater, A Noise Within, Actors’ Gang and Theater of NOTE, just for starters.
I suggested to the students in the world theater course I’m teaching at Cal State San Bernardino that they might benefit from driving in to L.A. to see the Taper’s The Cherry Orchard. I told them about live theater, which four-fifths of them had never attended; and then about the Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, about whom five-sixths of them had never heard ; and, finally, I mentioned Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, a play unfamiliar to almost everyone in the room.
After an hour, with the lure of extra credit and Center Theater Group’s remarkable $12 student group rate, 45 of them had signed up. Some wanted to bring spouses, significant others and even children. This was not due to any contagious love of theater or innate charisma on my part. It was the direct consequence of four words, like magnets, like gold: Annette Bening, Alfred Molina.
This got me to thinking: Would Center Theater Group have risked staging any play by Chekhov without the likes of Annette Bening and Alfred Molina? Of course not. Who would come? Would they risk doing Richard IIIor Henry Vwithout stars? Probably not, but they could because Shakespeare draws crowds. He draws crowds in college productions across the country; he draws crowds from the power of bloodletting and sex, and betrayal and death. The Bard is a bawd, which is why he still belongs to us. Shakespeare is a superstar who casts his own light; I love Chekhov more, which is why it’s so difficult to see the good doctor standing in a doorway, watching the light fade.?
THE CHERRY ORCHARD | By ANTON CHEKHOV | Presented by Center Theater Group at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave.,?dwntwn. | Through March 19 | (213) 628-2772