There's nothing like an idea whose time has come—and gone. By the start of Chekhov's THE CHERRY ORCHARD, the divisions are crumbling between the pomeshchiki, the landed Russian gentry of the 1800s, and the not-so-permanent peasant underclass it engendered.
In director Paul Frellick's take on Paul Schmidt's 1988 translation, actor John Rogers Harris' merchant, Lopákhin, looks on with increasing bemusement at the nostalgia, denial and learned helplessness of Liubóv (demure Dorothy Recasner Brown) and Gáyev (David Hudson) as their ancestral estate heads inexorably to the auction block.
But that will not prevent Lopákhin from buying it and then evicting the family his father and grandfather once served as slaves. Though he's courteous and even conciliatory, by the end it's abundantly clear: After five centuries of serfdom, enough's enough.
We know that further drastic changes await Russian culture in the 20th century. More than a hint of them lies in Kevin Poole's idealistic grad student, Pétya, as he woos Maryanne Henderson's fetching Ánya. And comic relief on this canvas of change comes from Fred Corlett's mooching neighbor, Borís, and Matthew Hager's fumbling suitor, Semyón.
This story of an absurdly moribund society's stately exodus recalls, of all things, a classic cartoon gag: Wile E. Coyote running off of the mountainside, captured in super-slow motion. At the end, Liubóv, Gáyev and their retinue are still moving forward, off the estate they've lost, seemingly unaware that the land that has grounded them for centuries has fallen away.
But someone's about to look down. Then comes the fall.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Teacher's threat"