The Oscar blitz is over and it’s bottom of the barrel time for movies. BUT– there’s some GREAT theater out there beginning with an absolutely gorgeous, funny, poignant, beautifully acted THE CHERRY ORCHARD which has been knocking ’em dead at an elegant mansion in Newton!  I love theater in beautiful, unusual places– and Actors’ Shakespeare Project has mounted a stunning production of Chekhov’s last work at the lavish Dane Estate at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill!

Cherry+Orchard2I’m talking a huge drawing room of a space with carved wood mantelpieces, tapestries, anterooms, a grand staircase, and fireplace…while outside the winter howls as the doors open and in rushes Ranyevskaya (the elegant, passionate Marya Lowry) and her entourage, returning to the family manse soon to be on the chopping block along with its beloved cherry orchard.  We sit around the perimeter of the action which is expertly directed and lucidly translated by Melia Bensussen to engage us like voyeurs. The old elaborate setting makes us deeply aware of what is being lost.

We watch as this aristocratic family struggles to hang on to a quickly receding past: the estate is bankrupt from decades of greedy mishandling, and the serfs on whose backs it once flourished have risen up to become a savvy merchant class with ideas on how to economize. These ideas are not pretty–chop down the cherries and replace them with rental cottages. Ranyevskaya  dances while the axes are sharpened and various generations and classes try to find appropriate partners on the cusp of a new social order.

The tone is tenderly balanced between “melancho-medy” and tragedy; the cast is sublime: Steven Barkhimer is a hefty Lopakhin in ill-fitting clothes, the merchant about to swallow up his former employer, yet sensitive enough to offer to save her first. He and the sublime Marianna Bassham as the attenuated Varya stammer through an intricate pas de deux at the 11th hour, like two tentative ships passing in the night. Esme Allen makes Dunyasha unwittingly funny and still poignant, discarded as she is by the callow Yasha (Mac Young). Danny Bryck’s “Trofimov” the tutor and Lydia Barnett-Mulligan’s 17 year old “Anya” burst with all the energy and optimism of youth, while the final moments find the ancient faithful servant Fiers (Arthur Waldstein) alone and laid out–on a pile of rugs like a bier, spent, and pondering the uselessness of the soon to be irrelevant aristocrats who’ve left him behind.

My sympathies were everywhere as I drifted out into the night, feeling like I’d been far, far away.  See THE CHERRY ORCHARD before it ends on March 9–with an ADDED PERFORMANCE at 7:30!