Why did Sam Mendes choose The Cherry Orchard to debut his transatlantic theater company? Maybe I'm being too literal-minded, but I think he should've contrasted Shakespeare with an American playwright. The mission of “The Bridge Project” (a title that lacks poetry and wit) was born out of Mendes wish “for artists, collaborators, and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic to experience one another's work, talent, and artistry…”
So why program a Russian drama – it's neutral ground? That doesn't seem likely. For one thing, Mendes partners the greatest Russian dramatist with the greatest English one, running The Cherry Orchard in repertory with Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. For another, this Cherry Orchard has British candences, care of adaptor Tom Stoppard. Also, the project was inspired by Mendes' double-bill of Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night at BAM back in '02; his program note admits that he's trying to recreate that experience. And probably Mendes picked The Cherry Orchard just because he wanted to direct it.
Okay, the two shows are well-matched. Both are plays of life's middle age, in which an aging generation hopes that their failures can be repaired by the vivacity of the one that's coming of age.* They've got several substantial roles for a sizable company of British thesps and American actors. But you could argue the same about Angels in America, which echoes The Winter's Tale by bringing a statue to life (Central Park's Bethesda Fountain).
I love the idea of “The Bridge Project,” which is why I'm so frustrated. London, New York, and LA have cross-pollinated performers to such an extent that there's not much difference between American and British styles of acting. It would be great to have a high-profile, high-calibre company that explores the ramifications of a hybrid style together for a season or three. American actors, directors, writers, designers working with their British counterparts to discover an Atlantic Style. That's what Mendes claims he wants to do. But he's really just created a company of actors that'll put on whatever work he wants to direct.
* I'll note here that Mendes Cherry Orchard fails on many levels, one of which is casting 48-year-old Simon Russell Beale as the youngish hustler Trofimov. Together they give him a crush on Ranevskaya (60-year-old Sinead Cusack), against the script, where he shyly adores Varya (25-year-old Rebecca Hall).