“The Cherry Orchard” could more appropriately be titled “Aristos in Amber.”
All sensibility and no sense, Chekhov’s impecunious bluebloods are so immobilized in their fading privilege and waning wealth that they cannot act to save themselves from slow-moving disaster.
Sadly, the current production at Pacific Resident Theatre is also immured in inaction. Working from Julius West's translation, director Dana Jackson either elides Chekhov’s delicate humor entirely or overblows it, never quite achieving a consistent and dynamic tone.
Returning to Russia after years abroad, Ranevskaya (Marilyn Fox) faces the loss of her ancestral estate, including the family's famous cherry orchard, about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Still, Ranevskaya dines lavishly and empties her purse to any passing beggar, while her dithering brother Gaev (Bruce French) offers windy platitudes instead of material help.
Of the family, only Varya (the somewhat stiff Tania Getty), Ranevskaya’s adoptive daughter, seems cognizant of impending doom.
Descended from serfs, wealthy Lopakhin (Scott Conte) repeatedly articulates a plan that could save the estate and restore the family to solvency. When his aristocratic friends perversely refuse to take any action, he cannot resist the temptation to profit from their loss.
Of course, there are also the servants, friends and hangers-on who frequent the estate, a gloriously comical and rich assemblage intended to amuse and frustrate in equal measure.
It’s here that director Jackson most seriously falters. Several actors seem simply miscast, and Jackson’s hesitant pacing places even the most assured performers at a disadvantage.
Fox is a shining exception to the generalized malaise, as is the stalwart French, despite some line stumbles on opening weekend. Initially unimposing, Conte builds in raw power, while Kelsey Ritter shines as Ranevskaya's starry-eyed daughter on the brink, we suspect, of a disastrous alliance.
They are the saving graces of this unexceptional production, as are Audrey Eisner’s costumes, beautifully in period and lovingly rendered.
“The Cherry Orchard,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 21. $25-$30. (310) 822-8392. www.pacificresidenttheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.