A Merry Band
by James Foritano
Finally, almost at the end of its 10th season, I was catching up with Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Guided both by our eccentric GPS and the seat of our pants, we were threading our way through the fanciest streets of Chestnut Hill toward the even fancier Dane Estate, just inside the gates of Pine Manor College.
So what was a “Project” that proclaims to disdain bricks and mortar for a “whatever/however” approach to community outreach — trading venues with an alacrity that would alarm more house-bound thespians — and doing it in a gilded–age mansion swathed in acreage?
Their excuse, when you think about it, does sound plausible. In a “Broadway World” interview last January, director Melia Bensussen put the choice down to luck and tradition. Dedicated to finding spaces as diverse as downtown Boston’s Old South Meeting House and an Elm Street storefront in Somerville, Bensussen and company felt they’d arrived at the pitch-perfect venue for enacting Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.”
They could just hear the febrile cries and passionate leave-takings of a tight family of aristocrats and servants echoing throughout the august dimensions of the Dane Estate’s Founder’s Room. In Chekhov’s last play, first presented in 1904, the golden age of Russia’s landed aristocracy has passed by, as surely as our Gilded Age imploded in the stock market crash, still echoing, of the late-1920s. The Dane Estate was rescued by Pine Manor College; Chekov gives us a detailed template of a play for resuscitating the last gasp of an era and its losing players.
In spite of a ceiling that is higher than some circa-1950s apartment buildings and walls forested with carved Circassian walnut, I had to agree that a pitch-perfect venue sprinkled liberally with an acting troupe of consummate talents is a formidable recipe for drama — even, a trademark of this company, intimate drama.