Tom Donaghy has written a new adaptation of The Cherry Orchard that feels, at times, like an altogether new play: He propels Ronald Meyer’s translation into modern vernacular. (Young Anya, describing her mother in Paris, says, “She’s got some French people there doing, you know, French things. And there’s an old priest with a little book, which is just weird.”) The lively treatment lacks some emotional punch, failing to convey the full sadness of a Russian family about to lose its home. But Donaghy does capture the play’s comedy and, paradoxically, its existential despair. Even as you laugh at the characters’ foibles, you’re unnerved anew by their anxieties about life, death, and the universe. It’s a treatment Beckett might have enjoyed.
No surprise, then, that the show’s magnetic center is occupied by our foremost Beckett interpreter, Alvin Epstein. Donaghy’s version allots more stage time than usual to Firs, the family’s superannuated valet, and Epstein seizes the chance. He shambles and mumbles and leans heavily on a cane; doubtless the servant is near death. Yet the more wracked ancient Firs seems, the funnier he becomes—a distinctly Beckett touch. “Young people are stupid!” he yells, in a pitiable, hilarious croak. Even at his most harrowing, Epstein is a delight.
Brooke Adams and Larry Bryggman acquit themselves nicely as the family doyenne and her wastrel brother, while director Scott Zigler draws striking work from Todd Weeks (as the oddball Yepikhodov) and TV’s Scott Foley, vastly improved since his last stage outing and nearly unrecognizable here as the impassioned student Trofimov. But the production mostly demonstrates how diabolically hard it is to get Chekhov right onstage. Some uneven performances and a design that’s unhelpful (at best) mean that for stretches of the evening, the play’s melancholy Russians aren’t the only ones contemplating the iniquities of the cosmos.