THE CHERRY ORCHARD, Hypocrites, at the Viaduct Theater. It may take a good 15 minutes to acclimate to Sean Graney’s rambunctious production of Chekhov’s turn-of-the-century masterpiece about a family waylaid on their doomed estate: Graney turns Chekhov’s famous inaction positively madcap. But what seems jarring at first quickly becomes natural as this intelligent cast finds the human depths in their clownish creations.

Graney understands why Chekhov called The Cherry Orchard a comedy: even in the most heartbreaking moments, somebody’s shoes still squeak and somebody else falls down the stairs. Graney also understands that the play has little to do with the impending loss of the family’s beloved cherry orchard despite occasional hyperbolic laments. Here the orchard is a useless vestige of a dying order–like most of the play’s characters. The family’s debilitating nostalgia is what matters; people, not trees, are the play’s focus.

Like Chekhov, Graney is interested in the way people delude themselves, staring at the stars while they tumble over cliffs. The play’s broad humor is rarely forced, and the cast manages to deliver the emotional goods amid the foolishness; has there ever been a sadder or more ridiculous image than young Varya, jilted by the man she imagines to be her last chance at love, standing alone on a warehouse-size stage saddled with enough luggage to overwhelm two porters? Like few directors tackling Chekhov, Graney manages to show just how petty, insignificant, foolish, and noble human beings can be.

–Justin Hayford