Chekhov is the anti-Shakespeare. The Elizabethan genius puts everything on the page a director might need, and the modern master gives up almost nothing. Reading through The Cherry Orchard is like skimming the transcript of a particularly boring family vacation, with a bunch of unimaginative people stuck in their summer home staring at one another. Directors tackling this monstrously difficult play often try to spice it up with cheap antics–who can forget the sight of poor Barbara Robertson rolling around in her bloomers in a preposterous fit of libidinal pique in Charles Newell’s Court Theatre production a few years back? But young directing marvel Sean Graney and the Hypocrites wisely take the opposite approach, exploiting the play’s comic tedium. Graney understands that, contrary to common directorial sense, the faded members of the gentry who gather for no particular reason on their crumbling family estate must be utterly dull if the play is to have a tragic dimension; as their world disintegrates around them, they can think of nothing better to do than throw parties, watch conjuring tricks, and soliloquize about antique furniture. Graney is never afraid to let his actors just sit around, though they seem nearly ready to burst from the accumulated aggravation of inertia. Purists may argue that Graney occasionally pushes Chekhov’s gentle comedy into rambunctious goofiness, but he does so without compromising the quiet human truths at the heart of the play. Theater on the Lake, Fullerton and Lake Shore Dr., 312-742-7994. Opens Wednesday, July 25, 7:30 PM. Through July 29: Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 PM; Sunday, 6:30 PM. $10.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sarah Hadley.