‘The Cherry Orchard’ reviews: Diane Lane divides critics

A new production of Anton Chekhov’s final play “The Cherry Orchard,” with a modernized text by Tony-winning playwright Stephen Karam (“The Humans”), opened on Broadway on Oct. 16. This production marks Oscar nominee Diane Lane’s return to the rialto for the first time since 1977 when, at age, 12, she was an ensemble member in another remounting of this classic play. In that production, Tony Award winner Irene Worth played Lane’s role, Ranevskaya, a member of Russian aristocracy who must confront the possibility of losing her childhood home and beloved cherry orchard.

Among the current ensemble are Tony winners John Glover (“Love! Valour! Compassion!” [1995]), Joel Grey (“Cabaret” [1967]), Chuck Cooper (“The Life” [1997]), and recent Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger (“The Glass Menagerie” [2014]).

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Several critics expressed strong disdain for director Simon Godwin‘s reimagining of “The Cheery Orchard.” In a scathing pan, Ben Brantley (New York Times) deems this production “terminally confused” and “the most clueless interpretation of Chekhov I have seen.” Joe Dziemianowicz (New York Daily News) wrote an equally harsh review, calling this a “vapid” revival in which “pretty much everything falls flat” because of its “unfocused tone” and “superficial ensemble.”

However, not all the critics reacted so negatively. Giving the production three out of five stars, David Cote (Time Out New York) admits the show “only works in spurts,” but commends the efforts of the cast and singles out Lane for her “commanding performance of tremendous passion and openness.” And Marilyn Stasio (Variety) similarly acknowledges some of the performers, applauding Grey’s “quietly moving” and Keenan-Bolger’s “quietly tragic” performances, but she ultimately finds that there’s “surprisingly little emotion stirred by this production.”

So, how will “The Cherry Orchard” fare at the Tony Awards?

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Between less-than-stellar notices and its December closing date, “The Cherry Orchard” will struggle to be remembered when the nominating committee meets at the end of April. With at least nine other play revivals this season, “The Cherry Orchard” is unlikely to reap a Best Revival bid. And while many of the notable cast members got positive notices, none of them received the across-the-board support that traditionally signals a strong Tony contender. However, a surprise nomination or two may not be out of the question given the pedigree of the performers.

Scott Pask may be able to break into the Best Scenic Design (Play) category. Not only does he have a stellar track record at the Tony Awards with three wins (“The Book of Mormon” [2011], “The Coast of Utopia” [2007], “The Pillowman” [2005]) and three other nominations, but his impressionist design also generated a lot of rialto chatter. Although many critics disliked Godwin’s vision for this production, he has been steadily building an acclaimed reputation on the West End with his stagings of Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman.”

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