Is there an actor currently appearing on our stages today who is, second by second, as fascinating as Pamela Rabe? Her Ranevskaya for Belvoir would seem to brook no argument. In Rabe’s hands this impulsive, warm, generous, indecisive and thoroughly impractical woman is utterly bewitching. It’s an unforgettable performance of one of the great roles in 20th-century drama.

Pamela Rabe, Mandela Mathia, Charles Wu and Josh Price in The Cherry Orchard. Photograph © Brett Boardman

The Cherry Orchard,Chekhov’s final play, begins with Lubov Ranevskaya’s return to her estate in Russia after five years in Paris. It’s very early in the morning but there are plenty of people up to greet her, among them the rising property developer Lopahkin (Mandela Mathia), Ranevskaya’s adopted daughter Varya (Nadie Kammallaweera), the maid Dunyasha (Sarah Meacham), Dunyasha’s hapless suitor Yepikhodov (Jack Scott) and even ancient Firs (Peter Carroll), who has been with the household forever.

Ranevskaya sweeps in wearing a capacious cape and, despite the early hour, sunglasses. She’s not glamorous exactly, being a little too ungainly and, due to her circumstances, not quite well-dressed enough. She...