Jun 30, 2006

Farewell Clinch

Well, this is the weekend when the Evidence Room turns into a pumpkin at midnight, figuratively speaking. I had a chance to catch its final production of Cherry Orchard on a brief trip to L.A. last week, and I must say I found it neither farcical nor furious but quite moving, sad, deceptively "messy" in the mode of Robert Altman or (tread lightly, here) Renoir. It created a convincing whirl of indirection and not-listening which seems latent in all Chekhov but which I've never seen brightlined as clearly as here.

That's in contrast to the kind of genteel ensemble playing I've seen in productions at South Coast, or Oregon Shakes, or A Noise Within; the rewards of that approach can be a lulling sense of verisimilitude, in which the shocking brutality and irreconcilability of the characters registers all the more strongly.

But I found director Bart DeLorenzo's approach, which was more disjointed and impassioned, and thus more contemporary in feeling, to be almost constantly disruptive, disturbing, engaging, surprising. After a slightly wobbly, queasy first act, the second act brings all the production's choices home, no more so than in the climactic speech of Tom Fitzpatrick's Gayev, his reverie drowned out by the sound of filled-up boxes hitting the alley blacktop behind the theater.

And the final non-proposal between Lopakhin (Don Oscar Smith, in a role that culminates an extraordinary career at ER) and Varya (Uma Nithapalan) broke my heart, in large part because to me it's tragic that the two main forces behind ER's split-up, DeLorenzo and Alicia Hoge Adams, are similarly unable to come to terms.

I know that's not precisely the way many folks see it, but then such analogies and resonances are never precise. I had many such resonant moments at that space on Beverly Blvd., both shared with others and held quietly to myself. That seems to sum up the genius of the best work there, at least for an avid theatergoer: Boisterous yet thoughtful, provocative but reflective, its work made room for both thought and feeling, outrage and contemplation. It's a special place, to understate the case, and I pray some of that vibe can remain under the Adamses' leadership—and that Bart and co. can recreate it somewhere else.

On a final note, the hyperactive lovers Ryan Templeton and Will Watkins (pictured above) are my new heroes, not least because they so happily contradict Ranevskeya's final benediction: "My life! My youth! My happiness! Farewell!" And let me contradict the final lament of the butler, Firs (the brilliant Lee Kissman): "They've forgotten me." No, we haven't, and we won't.


David N. said...

Thank you for that assessment. I found it the most overall involving production of the play since Serban's legendary take. At the second ER press performance -- after a first night performance in the face of a power outage that stopped the show and the block for five minutes -- Mlle. Templeton's opening reveal of the furniture beneath the dropcloth unexpectedly brought Gaev's beloved cabinet crashing down. Her shrieking reactions launched an extra-intuitive edge of spontaneity from everyone, and Mme. O'Brian was not to be believed. All peaked after Act 2 adlibs from Mssrs. Fitpatrick and Smith when a cabinet door came off in Gaev's hand and hysteria ensued. The box-tossing climax was indelible. Am seeing Sunday's final bow, with Kleenex and Smirnoff in hand. You're much missed on the Left Coast, but you already knew that. Enjoy the Great Macintosh.

Erik said...

Amen, amen, amen. I was also at that second performance that David mentions--the one where the cabinet crashed down--and I found the play to be so very funny and incredibly moving. It was messy (in a good way) (like life) and the way I read the play, it was filled with love. And that non-proposal scene killed me.

Great to read your take on it. I'm going back tonight as well to say farewell. The ER as we know it will be missed.

Kit Stolz said...

I too loved the Evidence Room's "Cherry Orchard" for its all-out commitment, its exuberance, and most of all for that moment at the end when the back doors of the theatre were opened and the characters prepared to leave and we saw that soon we would have to follow them and go back to our lives in the city. There was a sadness there, but a great beauty, too.