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The Forest -- Theater Review

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A 19th century Russian comedy satirizing the nobility and featuring a forest that will all too symbolically be cut down.

No, it's not "The Cherry Orchard" but "The Forest," by Alexander Ostrovsky. Predating the Chekhov classic by more than three decades, this rarely performed work by one of Russia's most influential playwrights (1823-1886) is receiving a well-deserved revival by the Classic Stage Company.

Two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest stars as Raisa, a noblewoman of a certain age who is in the process of selling her estate to a wealthy merchant (Sam Tsoutsouvas), ostensibly for the purpose of providing a dowry for her relative Aksyusha (Lisa Joyce). But unbeknown to the young woman, Raisa has designs on the betrothed, while Aksyusha has her eyes set on the merchant's son.

When a pair of itinerant traveling actors -- one of whom, Gennady (John Douglas Thompson), is Raisa's nephew -- arrives at the estate hoping to procure much-needed funds, it sets off farcical complications that reveal the underlying motives of all involved.

Ostrovsky, many of whose early plays were banned, was highly interested in social issues and exploring the disparities between the upper and lower classes. "Forest" is rich in such themes, employing satirical humor and pathos to rich effect.

Unfortunately, this production, directed by Brian Kulick and featuring a new adaptation by Kathleen Tolan, is only partially successful in realizing its qualities.

Performed on a striking set by Santo Loquasto that is dominated by artfully arranged shards of wood painted to look like trees, it lacks sufficient dynamism to make this admittedly talky work entertaining.

Wiest is compelling as the scheming Raisa, effectively conveying the character's underlying emotional vulnerability. Thompson, coming off highly acclaimed starring turns in "Othello" and "The Emperor Jones," continues to demonstrate that he's a classical actor to be reckoned with, displaying a formidable physical presence and a beautiful way with language.

The supporting cast features such estimable stage veterans as Herb Foster, Lizbeth Mackay and George Morfogen in small roles, but the real scene-stealer of the bunch is John Christopher Jones as a wily servant.

Venue: Classic Stage Company, New York (Through May 30)
Presented by: Classic Stage Company
Cast: Dianne Wiest, John Douglas Thompson, Adam Driver, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Herb Foster, John Christopher Jones, Lisa Joyce, Lizbeth Mackay, George Morfogen, Tony Torn, Sam Tsoutsouvas
Playwright: Alexander Ostrovsky
Adapted by: Kathleen Tolan
Director: Brian Kulick
Scenic designer: Santo Loquasto
Lighting designer: Peter Kaczorowski
Costume designer: Marco Piemontese
Original music/sound designers: Christian Frederickson, Ryan Rumery