This `Cherry Orchard' is a visual delight

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The Cherry Orchard Play by Anton Chekhov. Directed by Garland Wright at the Denver Center Theater Company. Scenic design by Douglas Stein. A clean, cool vision of Chekhov's last play emerges from Garland Wright's exquisitely designed production at the Denver Center Theater. But sacrifices of Chekhov's complexities have been made in exchange for the stunning visual effect.

The visual vigor of Douglas Stein's sets lends an interpretive atmosphere perfectly attuned to Wright's envisionment. The look of ``Cherry Orchard'' is the star of the production.

A white stage is backed by tall panels of plasticene ``windows,'' behind which a large painting hangs suspended from the ceiling. A gentle shower of white flakes behind the tall windows suggests not only the snows of early spring but the fall of cherry blossoms. The elegantly bare stage dotted with silk-enshrouded furniture marks the oversized dimensions of the deserted room. Behind the scrim at the rear of the thrust stage, soft lights glow like fairy lamps.

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Chekhov's sad comedy, bound up in bustling arrivals and departures, revolves on character. The mistress of the estate, the genteel (if decadent) Ranevskaya, arrives home from a spendthrift, pleasure-oriented life in France and an unhappy love affair. Unable to recognize the stark realities of her financial situation, she rhapsodizes affectionately over her family estate, refusing to face the threat of its loss. Self-deceived, Ranevskaya and her brother, Gayev, allow time and opportunity to slip through their fingers. They fail to choose.

Amid the pleasures in Wright's production, however, we learn but little of the characters' paradoxes and inconsistencies. Barbara Andres, though gracious and expansive, plays Ranevskaya with affected sensuality, never finding that endearing balance of cultivated sensitivity and genuine affection. All the ``love'' expressed by the characters in this production, in fact, never seems genuine. Layers of meaning are lost. Thus, when teen-age Anya (Annette Bening) begs her mother to return to Russia soon, we know they will probably never see each other again, but neither of them moves us with her plight.

Bening, an accomplished and engaging actress, plays Anya too young. Mark Harelik's perpetual student, Pyotr, on the other hand, provides a complicated characterization that continues to resonate in one's memory. The roughhewn, newly rich peasant Lopakhin, played with frank intelligence by Michael Winters, and the magnetic Caitlin O'Connell as Varya share the finest moment of the play in the last act when Lopakhin squirms out of his marriage proposal.

The visual power of the production lingers long after its conclusion, despite some loss of poignancy, and the cool eloquence of that barren stage chills us through.

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