Westside Rep., an Off-Off Broadway landmark for over a quarter-century, is known for its intimate staging of classics. The current production was a delightful evening spent with talented, likable performers - and a director who utilized the limited space so cleverly it was easy to forget how small the space was until the lights went back up. While aesthetic distance and respect for the audience were always observed, it was impossible not to become immediately absorbed in Chekhov's world.
Typical of Chekhov, the plot involves the conflicts and class struggles among the idle rich, who, as one character observes, have the best education but never seem to have or want a job, the emerging merchant class (formerly peasants), and the liberal intellectuals. The crumbling aristocracy in Russia is already on the way out, with moneyed members of the inferior classes moving in, with the old guard helpless to stop them.
The formerly wealthy family of Mme. Ranevskaya have owned a large cherry orchard for generations, from which they are seemingly too inept to realize any financial gain. The property is now about to be lost, although its owners, so used to their exalted place in society, have no clue as to the seriouness of the situation. The final insult comes when their social inferior, Lopakhin, becomes the owner of the cherry orchard and cuts it down to build a resort.
There were a number of noteworthy performances. Ruthanne Gereghty, who excelled in the comic role of Bertha, the oversexed landlady in "The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild" at the ACC (Amateur Comedy Club) this fall, was a magnificent Ranevskaya. Gereghty expertly balanced the poignant and charming sides of this often maddening character. Her glamorous portrayal was further complemented by the lavish costumes designed by Dvora Geller. Frank Nicolo as her bumbling brother, Gaev, the kindly but ineffectual aristocrat, gave a truthful, focused performance in a role that could easily have lapsed into stereotype. His nervous munching of caramels was a light comic touch that enhanced the character's vulnerability. Stuart McDaniel was a handsome, commanding presence in the role of Yasha. His matinee-idol looks and voice make him ideal for the classics. Daria Sanford gave a rich, multilayered performance as Ranevskaya's put-upon older daughter, Varya, the only family member to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. Her no-nonsense portrayal was enhanced by the feminine yet practical costumes she wore, in contrast to the more sumptuous wardrobe of her mother ansd sister. Lovely Alexandra Devin brought charm and sympathy to the ingenue role of Anya, the younger sister. Her scenes with Trofimov (Tod Mason), the perpetual student, were touching, as she begins to see a brighter future in a new world order. Mark Gordon's Lopakhin, while engaging, never went quite far enough in establishing his humble origins--he seemed too bourgeois and jaded. John Vicich, a talented actor who should know better, marred his sensitive reading of the elderly Firs with too much "old man" business.
The set, by Andris Krumkalns, and lighting by William Kenyon were spare, but functional and inviting. Scene changes were done quickly and unobtrusively, accompanied by quaint Russian music.
(Also featuring: Irene Chapman, Anthony Pennino,
Julie Siefkes, and Kip Yates.)
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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern