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A Lifetime Journey Harvests the Fruits of Her Labor

Diane Lane takes on Broadway (again), with Anton Chekhov’s classic drama “The Cherry Orchard” (again).

On stage, on film and in real life, Diane Lane has played more roles in her first 51 years than most women would attempt in three lifetimes. A working actress since age 6, the stunningly beautiful New York native has been connected to high-profile Hollywood men (married to actors Christopher Lambert and then, from 2004-2013, Josh Brolin, making Barbra Streisand and James Brolin her in-laws); a loving mother to now 23-year-old daughter Eleanor; an Oscar nominee (2002’s “Unfaithful”) and much more.

This month, however, she takes on the mantle of Broadway star for the first time in over 35 years—tackling one of the theater world’s most coveted roles, Madame Ranevskaya, the stubborn, down-on-her-luck Russian landowner, in Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” at the Roundabout’s Amerizcan Airlines Theatre.

In a way, Lane is coming full circle: She was an ensemble member in the play’s landmark 1977 Broadway production starring Irene Worth as Ranevskaya and a young Meryl Streep as the maid, Dunyasha.

“I get to bookend my living memories of my existence doing this play now, and that will be fun,” said Lane. “It’s also a reminder that time just happens while you’re living day-to-day. Whatever I was doing, whether I was acting or not, I was always being the age I was supposed to be. Whether it was about falling in love with teenage boys, getting married or raising a family. I am a woman first and a romantic one at that,” she said laughing.

“The Cherry Orchard,” she admitted, resonates with her on many levels, including the romantic one.

"There’s [Ranevskaya’s] strange relationship with Lopahkin (a now-wealthy merchant who once worked for her, and who is trying to buy her estate and is somewhat in love with her). Maybe, in a way, I’m being typecast and I don’t know it, since I do think we live with this imposed class distinction, where people in the entertainment industry are held to a higher standard. It alters how people interact with me,” she admitted. “And, as a mother, the play cuts very close to home because of Ranevskaya’s relationship to her daughters, Varya and Anya, as well as my relationship to my own mother. There’s always a jury in the back of my mind discussing how things would have turned out had I gone to a different school or chosen a different profession. I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about that.”

As Lane recalls, it wasn’t her overwhelming desire to become an actor that led her to take to the stage at such a young age.

“A family friend named Judy Zimmerman sent my dad [famed acting coach Burt Lane, who died in 2002] this postage-stamp-sized ad from the Village Voice as a bit of joke. It said that they were looking for children to act in an Off-Off-Broadway production of ‘Medea.’ She added a note like ‘Hey, Burt, when are you going to put your kid onstage?’ So, my dad asked me if I wanted to do a play, and all I heard was the word ‘play,’ like play outside. So I said yes, and he put me in a taxi and sent me to La MaMa, where the late director Elizabeth Swados conducted a very small audition, like could I hold a note and speak at the same time, and somehow I got the job.”

Diane Lane
Roundabout Theatre Company presents "The Cherry Orchard" starring Diane Lane. (©Joan Marcus)

Over the next decade or so, she worked with many great artists, not just Swados (who also directed her Off-Broadway in the musical “Runaways”), but also Sir Laurence Olivier, her co-star in the 1979 film “A Little Romance.”

“In hindsight, it is so touching that so many amazing people were willing, in their own way, to co-parent me,” she notes. “Young people don’t know what to do and not do unless they’re told, and these people took time to teach me or scold me as the case was. I think there’s a great work ethic you develop from good shaming. I made every mistake you could, from missing cues to peeing onstage. Let’s say I had quite a learning curve.”

In fact, bonding with the cast is perhaps Lane’s favorite part of her job.

“I am more excited about working with these actors on “The Cherry Orchard” (Tony Award winners Joel Grey, John Glover and Chuck Cooper) and creating a sense of family than anything else,” she said. “Doing a play is like preparing a meal with a great recipe and hoping it comes out good. To me, the experience is more important than the end result. I know people are buying tickets to see me, and the play, and I will give it my all. But the audience is always a bit secondary.”

She also has slightly mixed feelings about returning to New York for an extended stay (although she did appear Off-Broadway in 2015 in “The Mystery of Love and Sex”).

“Here’s my confession: I always think I am over New York,”Lane said. “But once I come back here, the city slowly forces me to fall in love with it all over again. I just can’t resist its charms, and then I think ‘why do I ever go anywhere else?’ Life comes to you here, and you lack for nothing: It really is such a rich universe.”

“When my dad used to say that I could be an actor for the rest of my life, I was terrified,” she continued. “But I have adapted quite nicely to the ‘lifer mentality.’ Ultimately, doing theater gave me a purpose in life. My father wisely knew it was a haven for me to grow within. Theater is the church of the soul and the intellect, and, in the end, acting can make you feel less crazy and alone, and gives you compassion for everyone around you.

“One of the reasons I wanted to do ‘The Cherry Orchard’ again is because I pretty much identify with every single character in this play. Chekhov makes you find the comedy and tragedy inside yourself. He reminds you that everyone struggles, that you have to have a sense of humor about your own life.”