Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Review: The Cherry Orchard

For New York Press. Here's the tease:

When you're 43-year-old director Sam Mendes—Oscar for American Beauty, Tony nomination for Cabaret, Kate Winslet for a wife, an O.B.E. from Queen Elizabeth II—you can write your own ticket. It’s not that Mendes hasn’t shown the artistic fruits of such ticket writing, but he’s exceedingly rare in that he shifts so fluidly between stage and film, picking projects and venues as they tickle him. His latest effort is The Bridge Project, an 18-actor ensemble Mendes created with Kevin Spacey, who runs London’s Old Vic, and Joseph Melillo, the executive producer at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Composed of an equal number of British and American actors, the project takes the old idea of repertory—in this case, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale—and recharges it with new blood: Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton and Richard Easton (for the Yanks) and Simon Russell Beale, Sinead Cusack and Rebecca Hall (for the Brits).

And The Cherry Orchard is certainly an auspicious start (The Winter’s Tale opens Feb. 20), a play yet again unveiled as a comedy with tragic tints, as Chekhov asserted. Mendes over-imposes his directorial will on the play, however, and so the balance is off. Had he not bullied the play so, its tragic currents would no doubt have risen organically to the surface.

The last 15 minutes of the play, when Mendes’ ideas clash with the actors’ impeccable impulses, is as painful as it is powerful.

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