The Cherry Orchard

By Anton Chekhov; Directed by Terry Schreiber

BOTTOM LINE: Young (and not so young) actors biting hard into the most actor-y of texts under the direction of a teacher who believes deeply in the craft.

I see Chekhov the way I see my proctologist - only when I have to, and not more than once every three years - because it’s good for me. The last one I saw was Ivanov at NAATCO in 2005. The last one I liked was David Hare’s translation of the same play with Kevin Kline in 1998.

That said, it was impossible for me not to enjoy moments of Terry Schreiber’s fast-paced and energetic production of The Cherry Orchard. When is the last time you came away from Mr. Chekhov’s angst-ridden Russians and thought the word “hopeful”? Yet that’s what kept springing to mind throughout this acting-class-cum-theatre-production version.

T. Schreiber Studios is a curious combination of actor’s “gym” for working pros, paid acting studio for students, and small, rotating rep theatre company. Frankly, it’s a brilliant business model, combining the best of the non-profit, donor-supported model with a healthy income derived from the non-stop flow of bright-eyed stars-in-the-making who flock to New York every year (studio tuition runs up to $13K per year). And they’re good at what they do - each actor in this production is a student of the studio in some way, and I have never seen a more committed, dedicated group, each of whom pour every last bit of talent they have into their characters.

Much of that conviction emanates from studio faculty member Julie Garfield, whose Ranavskaya is less grande dame and more first playmate. Ms. Garfield’s verve and pluck in the face of age, declining fortunes and jilted love seem to the lead the way for her pupils to a jaundiced hope for the family’s post-orchard life. Combine her pep with Mr. Schreiber’s effective use of a loud and spirited ensemble (most notably in the group scenes, which included very effective use of offstage sound and voices) and the evening percolates right along, balancing the teary, harsh truths of the play with the beautiful, soulful longing in its Slavic soul.

At the end of the day, what I found myself watching in the intimate space at the center of the Studio (excellently manipulated by Hal Tiné’s multi-purpose setting) was a group of young actors diving headlong into the emotions of the text, proudly throwing themselves up against the walls of Chekhov’s emotional architecture.

Jeremy Kirmser’s Lopahkin may be gangly and relentlessly 21st century, but there is no doubting his sincere affection for the family or his buried love for Aleksandra Stattin’s Varya, who excels in her hard edged running of the estate, but can’t quite make the leap to give us the wounded and jilted girl she becomes. Marcus Lorenzo’s Trofimov and Laine Bonstein’s Anya are closest to traditional denizens of the estate, and comport themselves well in their youthful idealism (kudos to Mr. Schreiber for casting the round-faced Ms. Bonstein in the role of the fetching apple of everyone’s eye; in a more jaded production, she would have been relegated to the more stereotypical Dunyasha).

The older actors (Rick Forstmann as the dandy Gaev, Robert Puliso as the fawning neighbor Pischik, and the ever-elegant Peter Judd as Firs) provide welcome ballast to the at times careening skills of the students. Mr. Judd in particular finds a physical core to the ancient serf that set a gold standard for truth in movement.

If you are an actor or a person who really appreciates the craft of acting, then I recommend seeing this Cherry Orchard. There’s a great amount of heartfelt, deeply investigated, emotion laden work on this stage, and if it doesn’t quite amount to a complete evening of theatre, it does leave us hopeful for the future of acting in New York.

(The Cherry Orchard plays at the T.Schreiber Studio, 151 West 26th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, through April 4, 2010. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $15-25. Running time is approximately 2 hours 20 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit, or call 212. 741.0209.)