Presented in repertory, these classic plays resonate in unexpected ways. Both have a lengthy pastoral scene at their center, bringing much needed sunlight into the gloom. And both plays are haunted by the memory of a dead son. Mendes looks for ways to emphasize these echoes, such as setting the opening of The Winter’s Tale in a nursery (just as Chekhov directs for The Cherry Orchard). But he also overinterprets some things better left ambiguous: he stages a tableau in The Winter’s Tale that makes Leontes’s baseless suspicions seem reasonable, and he leans too hard on the historical context of Chekhov’s domestic drama. Arresting visuals and consummate performances make both productions compelling, but The Cherry Orchard is less uneven and more authoritative.The rest is mainly concerned with how the two plays resonate together. I hope you'll check it out.
The transatlantic cast is particularly strong on the British side: Simon Russell Beale brings heartbreaking depth to Lopakhin and Leontes, and Rebecca Hall’s intellectual gravity is perfectly suited to Chekhov’s Varya and the wronged queen Hermione. Sinéad Cusack is endearing as the hapless landowner Ranevskaya and bracing as the righteous Paulina, defender of Hermione. The finest of the American actors is Richard Easton, humorous and affecting as The Cherry Orchard’s Firs and The Winter’s Tale’s kindly Shepherd.
If you're fortunate enough to have a hard copy, I also recommend the feature article on The Vagina Monologues and their performance on Catholic college campuses ("Be Not Afraid," by Cathleen Kaveny). I think it's a very sensible analysis of a neuralgic issue, one consistently blown out of proportion partly because both sides in the debate believe they stand to gain from the hype. That piece, like so many of our treasures, is subscriber-only online -- which means there's never been a better time to subscribe, if you ask me!