nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
May 1, 2010
The real world collides with the theatrical in Classic Stage Company's charming production of Alexander Ostrovsky's The Forest, translated by Kathleen Tolan and directed by Brian Kulick.
The Forest bears striking resemblance to the work of another Russian playwright, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, though Ostrovsky has the distinction of having written his play first. Our heroine—if you can call her that—is Raisa Pavlona (Dianne Wiest), the greedy, penny-pinching owner of this forest estate (completely the opposite of the financially strapped Chekhov's Madame Ranevskaya). The play finds her home invaded by her itinerant actor nephew Gennady Demyanych (John Douglas Thompson).
What transpires is basically an ode to the theatre, as Gennady and his comrade Arkady (Tony Torn) pretend to be a nobleman and his servant, respectively, and turn the household upside down, but in the best possible way. Raisa falls in love with the young man (Adam Driver) with whom she was to set up her niece (Lisa Joyce).
The casting is peculiarly uneven and Kulick's production takes a long while to kick into high gear. It's only toward the end of the first act, when Thompson and Torn enter (i.e., when the plot gets started), that this happens. Thompson delivers yet another powerhouse performance. It is impossible to not marvel at his considerable skill.
He is not evenly matched by Wiest, who, at least at Saturday's press preview, has not seemed to have decided how to play her character. She's torn between villain and amiable dowager, falling somewhere in the middle. Driver, as her eventual lover, is stiff as a board. Torn and Joyce are quite strong. Heads above them all is John Christopher Jones as Karp, the servant. He and Torn have a particularly strong rapport in their scenes together, as do Torn and Thompson.
Santo Loquasto's set consists of ornately hung and painted wooden plants that resemble a dark, abstract forest. Marco Piemontese's costumes are lush and sumptuous. The lighting (designed by Peter Kaczorowski) is especially beautiful in the second act's nighttime sequence.
The downside of the production is that, especially towards the end, it just feels too long. The first and last half hours are very poorly paced. Everything in between, however, is being played at the perfect speed. Tolan's translation is a mixed bag; it's too formal to call it colloquial, yet too colloquial to call it formal.
I had never heard of The Forest, and I was not very well acquainted with Ostrovsky's work prior to seeing this production, but I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't love it, but I certainly didn't hate it either. It's worth seeing—especially for Thompson's performance.