TT: Melancholy farce

Today’s Wall Street Journal contains the first of a series of theatrical reports from the road. This time around I review a Cherry Orchard in Boston and a Noises Off in Washington:

It says much about the artistic health of Broadway that none of Anton Chekhov’s plays has been seen there since 2000, and that two decades have gone by since “The Cherry Orchard” was last produced there (unless you count the Russian-language road-show version that ran for a week and a half in 1997). So when Boston’s Huntington Theatre cast Kate Burton as Madame Ranevskaya in Chekhov’s last and greatest play, I knew I had to go see it–and her. Nowadays Ms. Burton is best known as a TV star, but she is also one of the finest stage actresses we have, and in “The Cherry Orchard” she made an impression so strong and vibrant that I can still see her clearly in my mind’s eye a week after the fact….

The Marxist reading of “The Cherry Orchard” as a snapshot of Russia on the eve of much-needed revolution was fashionable throughout much of the 20th century, but has grown less stylish of late. “You can never make a play this great about politics,” says Nicholas Martin, the Huntington’s artistic director, who has chosen instead to stress the comic side of “The Cherry Orchard.” He gets his laughs and then some, but the broadness of his straightforward staging, which borders at times on slapsticky crudity, seemed to me to veer rather too far in the opposite direction….

I don’t know if “Noises Off” is the funniest play ever written, but it’s definitely the funniest play I’ve ever seen, and Washington’s Arena Stage has given it a perfect revival. I mean it: I can’t think of a single way in which this production could possibly have been improved….

No link, naturally, so get yourself a Journal and read the whole thing there, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, thereby giving you immediate access to my column and all the rest of the Journal‘s Friday arts package. (If you’re already a subscriber, the column is here.)

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