Any production ofáChekhov ináMoscow isábound toábeádwarfed byáthe original. The Cherry Orchard that traveled toáthe Golden Mask Festival from Omsk acknowledges this literally. Huge photographs ofáthe original MXAT cast are projected behind the live actors ináthe early scenes. This isáboth nod toátradition and aámeta-theatrical comment onáthe playsátheme. Just asáChekhov experts revere production history, Chekhovsácharacters are soáenamored ofátheir familysápast that they cannot change toápreserve their legacy ináthe present.
But lest the projections seem like aáone-note gimmick, the images and staging evolve asáthe show progresses toáprovoke questions ofáinterpretation. When the dialogue mentions Paris, vintage newsreel ofáthe Eiffel Tower appears. When Petya mentions the drowning ofáyoung Grisha, weásee aágrainy black-and-white home movie ofáboys diving into aálake. Projections ofáimages toácompliment aáscene are commonplace enough today toáappear pedestrian. But this production pairs them with aádesign that allows the technical elements toáreinvent the stately pace ofáthe play.
When young Anya and her guardians return home, the servants greet them with folk-singing, but aásoundtrack ofácontemporary blues drowns them out. Black-and-white images ofáLopakhin cavorting with servant girls ináaábath interrupt his greetings with subtextual suggestions that color the rest ofáthe scene. The actors proceed with their realistic performances, but aáturntable onáthe stage makes them recede asáthe grainy images loom above. When their voices seem toáreach anáoptimistic pitch, the melancholy soundtrack intrudes abruptly. Far from making the story appear dated, this blatantly artificial frame ofáthe past creates aástatement about the perils ofánostalgia that feels very modern.
The productionsámeta-theatrical mischief reaches aáhigh point with anáintermission that seems toácome too early. The curtain closes and the house lights come upábefore 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. Atáthis point, some playgoers retreat toáthe lobby; other spectators who remain inátheir seats feel like eavesdroppers. This moment ofáyouthful rebellion exists outside the nostalgic frame ofáthe play, and suggests that the real future ofálove may not beáseen onáthis stuffy stage atáall.
By the second act, black-and-white live feed ofáthe actors onstage has replaced historical footage. Moody close-ups of the older characters imply that their performances are entering the historical canon asáthey speak. The revolving stage and multiple intermissions continue toáchop upátheir leisurely scenes; time, asáweáknow, isánot onátheir side.
In the final scene, when Lopakhin announces the number ofáminutes until the familysátrain departs, the huge screen replaces its sentimental images with numbers counting down the minutes, seconds, and dizzying milliseconds ináreal time. This childishly simple device somehow adds heartrending suspense toáthe final bits ofádialogue. Although the actors play them with restrained realism, their clumsy attempts toásave Varyasálove and Firs life acquire urgency before aáwhirring digital clock.
The clock runs out, Firs isáleft behind, and the screen fills with aávideo image, this time inácolor. The hands and feet ofáfigures ináevening dress appear asáthey hurry out ofáwhat looks like aátheatre and step into aáwaiting limousine. Aáweary saxophone wails asáthe car recedes. Has the cast, already made celebrities ofáaákind, progressed toáfilm? Oráisáthis the audience returning toáits bourgeois life ináthe present? All ofáthese technical devices have been seen inámany productions many times before. But their soulful and provocative combination here draws anáundeniably striking portrait ofáaálost past that might beáanáelegy for live theatre itself. Asácinematic credits roll onscreen toáaábluesy beat, Omsk asks Moscow, źWheresáyour Chekhov now?╗