By David Lefkowitz
07 Nov 1997
Unlike 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. Their next Broadway outing, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, is concluding its two week run at the Martin Beck Theatre, Nov. 9. Orchard began previews Oct. 29 and opened Oct. 30. Whirlwind director Galina Volcheck also staged Orchard.
The play is part of a month-long celebration titled, "Moscow Arts Festival On Broadway," which will bring Novaya Opera Theatre to the Martin Beck with Tchaikovsy's Eugene Onegin Nov. 19-30 after Sovremennik leaves. Artistic director Evgeny Kolobov will stage the opera with 55 singers and a 60-piece orchestra. Based on a novel by Pushkin, the 1879 work is being presented -- for the first time -- with the composer's original ending intact.
Sovremennik spokesperson Rina Kovalyova told Playbill On-Line (May 1997), "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 given a special award by the Drama Desk.
At an Oct. 28 press conference at the Firebird Restaurant in midtown Manhattan, artistic director Volchek told the assembled that in the old days, "twenty years ago, we were using real trees and rocks, real earth. The notion of Beauty was important. But now the notion of beauty has changed. Like it or not, technology and material have changed, and so it has in this piece, too. After the performance we'd love to stop for ten minutes, turn off the special lights and just show the set. People who say, `Oh, that's not how Chekhov would have done it,' well they didn't walk arm and arm with Chekhov. To me, he's the most living playwright...there's always pretext to read him with a modern eye."
Starring in the 1904 comedy/drama are company members Marina Neyolova, Yelena Yakovleva, Valentin Gaft, Igor Kvasha and Boris Dyachenko. As with Three Sisters and Whirlwind, The Cherry Orchard is performed in Russian with simultaneous English translation via headset, as will Onegin.
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 w ýRussian 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 Denise Robert, spokesperson at the time (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."
For tickets ($30-$100; 25 percent off if you buy tickets to both shows) to The Cherry Orchard and Eugene Onegin call (212) 239-6200.