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The "Cherry Orchard" was never received well in Russia because it treats social change so as to provoke sympathy for a fading aristocracy rather than a rising bourgeoisie. In adapting this play to the American scene, Joshua Logan has carried this treatment further by indicating that the new classes were not ready for their new position, and in doing this he transforms a fine naturalistic drama into a less brilliant but still effective picture of social tragedy. In addition he brings back the always welcome Helen Hayes.
Logan has interpreted Chekhov rather than writing a "New American Play" as the program mentions. Logan has helped the original plot only by contributing an American setting; all other changes he has made injure the play. Most obvious of his mutilations is the overdrawing of characters; in "The Wisteria Trees" he has replaced Chekhov's people with carieatures, exaggerated types which are often difficult to accept.
It is true, of course, that Chekhov's people are also types: Lopakhim, a representative of the rising business class who buys the Cherry Orchard from Larbov, is a type; but in the Russian he is drawn sympathetically, this is not true of the American. Kent Smith follows Logan's transformation faithfully and with assurance.
Walter Abel as Gavin also suffers even more from this typing; he is cast as a representative of southern aristocracy with all the caricature that casting can imply. For some reason Mr. Logan has seen fit to equip this southern gentleman with a set of dice which he rolls intermittently throughout the play, an ineffective attempt at naturalism.
Fortunately Helen Hayes (Lubov Andryevna Ranevsky in the Russian and now Lucy Andree Ransdell) avoids this stereotyping. She plays the landowner who is most poignantly affected in the social change, a confused, sympathetic woman whose mind is clouded with nostalgia, occupied with the days of the beautiful Wisteria Trees and the Old South.
Miss Hayes has a reputation as one of the finest actresses of our time. It is easy to see why. She is able to play her difficult role with a restraint that is completely disarming. When she laughs or when she cries the audience must share her feelings, for she is actually the person who is affected.
Many claim for "The Cherry Orchard" first place in modern drama; "The Wisteria Trees" retains a great amount of the intimacy and despair of the original. The agony of social change is sensitively drawn and despite Logan's manhandling of the adaptation, the play remains a good one.
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