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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zakharov Launches Hyperactive ‘Cherry Orchard’

Lenkom TheaterLeonid Bronevoi plays Firs, the 87-year-old family servant, in one of the most moving performances in the play.

We will get our fill of Anton Chekhov in this, the season celebrating the 150th year since the great writer was born in the sleepy town of Taganrog on the Azov Sea. September already brought us two major productions — Rimas Tuminas with “Uncle Vanya” at the Vakhtangov Theater, and Mark Zakharov with “The Cherry Orchard” at Lenkom.

Zakharov delivers an interpretation that is likely to satisfy the hordes of fans that pack his theater every night. It has the Zakharov magnitude, the Zakharov flair, the Zakharov volatility and the Zakharov precision. Actors look big on stage; the words they speak sound especially weighty. This is a talent of Zakharov’s that occasionally is underappreciated — his ability to make big theater with grand strokes, without losing the fine detail that separates masterful theater from the merely professional.

There is a catch, however. At times, Zakharov’s masterful craft can call too much attention to itself. Now, “too much” is a subjective epithet. One man’s “too much” is another woman’s “just right.” But those who love Zakharov’s work share one thing with those who can be put off by it — all of us respond in our own way to the director’s chutzpah, his belief that brassy and loud is always better.

This “Cherry Orchard” is one of the most energetic, even hyperactive, Chekhov productions I have seen for awhile. Everyone is on tenterhooks. They are aggressive, frustrated and ready to make that known — often at the top of their lungs. Even Firs, the frail 87-year-old servant who eventually is forgotten and left behind, has a bone to pick, and he isn’t shy about saying so.

As Leonid Bronevoi performs it with irony and heart, this role is arguably the most effective and moving of all. But the shift it signals in Zakharov’s approach to the play’s sensibilities is striking.

Ranevskaya (Alexandra Zakharova), the owner of the cherry orchard who returns to Russia only to see her family estate sold at auction, is at loose ends. Exasperated by her break with a lover in Paris, she is more than ready to throw herself into the embraces of Lopakhin (Anton Shagin), the former serf boy who is now prosperous enough to buy the estate himself. Before trying to coerce Lopakhin into proposing marriage to her adopted daughter Varya (Olesya Zheleznyak), Ranevskaya clamps a lip-lock on him that he rather understandably interprets as an invitation to a sexual encounter.

Ranevskaya’s brother Leonid Gayev (Alexander Zbruyev) is a petulant complainer that everyone is tired of hearing from. It isn’t certain whether he is growing senile or is just excessively sure of himself in his advancing age. Whatever it may be, he is already beginning to look like a future version of Firs, another man on the verge of being forgotten despite the noise he makes.

Zakharov severely cut Chekhov’s text, and you have to be with him on this score. There is so much of it, and we have heard these words spoken so many times before! Moreover, Zakharov took a few liberties by adding phrases and repetitions here and there. This, too, strikes me as being legitimate. After all, he is not a linguist or a scholar, but a theater director whose aim it is to interpret Chekhov’s world in contemporary context.

Thanks to these changes, “The Cherry Orchard” at Lenkom hurries along at a brisk pace without losing much of the story. However, what I didn’t see arise, aside from some scenes involving Firs, was a fresh vision of Chekhov or his characters. For all the activity, all the grand posing, and all the racket, this was pretty much the same old same old.

No Zakharov production would be complete without a few explosions and he dutifully provides them here. For good measure he even tosses in a few gunshots and jarring crashes.

Designer Andrei Kondratyev contributed an aesthetically pleasing set that responds well to Zakharov’s demands for size and speed. A towering wall of doors and windows stretches the entire depth of the stage and transforms quickly by folding or turning, and cutting the stage into ever-changing spatial subdivisions. Valentina Komolova provided the richly detailed costumes that run the gamut from comical to elegant.

As the frantic action of Mark Zakharov’s “Cherry Orchard” unfolded, I found myself admiring the director’s craft even as I failed to connect with the people his actors played. Ultimately, despite all the shouting, I suspect that this production says less than Chekhov intended it to.

“The Cherry Orchard” (Vishnyovy Sad) plays Tues., Wed., Oct. 20, 21 and 31 at 7 p.m. at the Lenkom Theater, located at 6 Malaya Dmitrovka. Metro Chekhov­skaya, Pushkinskaya. Tel. 699-0708, Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.