By David Lefkowitz
20 May 1997
Unlike the trees in The Cherry Orchard that are cut down in their prime and can never grow back, Moscow's Sovremennik Theatre has planted its seeds on Broadway and hopes to become a perennial.
In November 1996 they brought two plays to New York, a revival of Chekhov's Three Sisters, and a look at the political prison system under Stalin, Into The Whirlwind. As reported in Theatrical Index, already they've planned their next Broadway outing, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, scheduled for a two week run in the fall at a theatre to be announced. Whirlwind director Galina Volcheck will also stage Orchard.
"We're hoping for October-November," spokesperson Rina Kovalyova told Playbill On-Line. "Galina directed [Orchard] 15 years ago, but this is not the same production. We think there's a place for Chekhov in its original form in New York." Apparently so does the New York theatrical community. Sovremennik was recently given a special award by the Drama Desk.
Starring in the 1904 comedy/drama will be company members Marina Neyolova, Yelena Yakovleva, Valentin Gaft, Igor Kvasha and Borish Dyachenko. As with Three Sisters and Whirlwind, The Cherry Orchard will be performed in Russian with simultaneous English translation via headset.
Asked how Sovremennik can bring such a large cast to New York for such short periods of time, while Broadway musicals can barely pay the rent, Kovalyova replied, "We have several sponsors we work with, and we've made a personal investment. Also, we do many events a year with the Russian community in NY, so there's a relationship there."
Sovremennik's first trip to America brought them to Seattle for six weeks as part of the Goodwill Games. Founded in 1956, the theatre sought to oppose the restrictive policies of the Soviet regime ("sovremennik" means "contemporary" in English). As if to show how times have changed, the 1996 engagement was endorsed by the Moscow government as the official opening of a Russian Arts Festival to celebrate the 850th anniversary of the founding of the city of Moscow.
Sovremennik Theatre is presented by Marina and Rina Kovalyov, President and Vice President of People Travel Club, Ltd. -- the only mother/daughter producing team on Broadway. "They've produced a number of art shows in New York and around the country," explained spokesperson Denise Robert in Nov. 1996, "but this is their first theatre venture on Broadway. Marina has long loved the Sovremennik Theatre. She met [director] Volcheck and they became fast friends. Because there is American and Russian support for the project, she sees bringing the production here as a way to strengthen cultural alliances between Russia and the United States."