By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Chekhov intended his upper-class characters to look like fools. And he imbues the banker, student and servants with heaps of dignity. Whatever anyone says, he often means for us to hear just the opposite. "I'm so glad you're still alive," Liubov deadpans to the decrepit Firs. He also likes to make characters say things they could apply to themselves. To Lopakhin, Liubov whines, "Subdivide? Leisure homes? It's all so hopelessly vulgar." That she is.
If only the attractive actors of the Classical Acting Company would stop taking Chekhov and themselves so seriously. As Liubov, Baker seems overly proud of herself, too stately, steaming around the stage in long skirts like a shiny cruise liner. Liubov needs to be funnier and more likable, even if she is a stupid woman, so we can feel a little sorry for her when the time comes. And what happened to Lopakhin's romantic feelings for Liubov? They've eliminated that little bit of chemistry altogether.
As God-fearing daughter Varya, Emily Gray (co-founder with husband Matthew of CAC) grasps none of her character's comedic possibilities, playing her instead as a sour schoolmarm. Lisa Schreiner is a bubbly but unmemorable Anya. Cliff Stephens gives Gayev some froth--the character constantly repeats under his breath his own favorite billiard shots--but he navigates the final scenes awkwardly.
The funniest characters are Pischick, a down-at-heels neighbor, who, like Seinfeld's Kramer, suddenly falls ass-deep into new money, and Yepihodov, a bumbling accountant nicknamed "Double Trouble," who can't enter or leave a room without breaking something. As the former, H. Francis Fuselier seems to be alone among the cast in finding the right balance of comedy and pathos in his character. Doug Davidson needs to bumble more and mumble less as Yepihodov. Valerie Hauss-Smith, using a Greta Garbo accent, makes a spicy Carlotta, the vividly dressed governess with lots of tricks up her sleeve. Too bad Chekhov doesn't let us see her more. Off in the other part of the house entertaining servants, no doubt.
Scenic designer Randel Wright dresses the stage in long swaths of gauzy fabric the color of dust. These are gathered or loosened to represent ballrooms or orchards. Pretty enough, but rather wispy. Costumes by Diane Kearney often overpower their wearers, particularly the shiny, heavy frocks on Liubov.
By Act 4 the endless goodbyes do grow tiresome, more so because this cast takes its time when it should be quickening the pace. The axes are falling, people. And don't you hear that twang?