The Cherry Orchard is certainly a period piece, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be given a little bit of pizazz.
Deeply rooted in the socio-economic state of Russia at the birth of the 20th century, the Chekhovian classic is set after the end of serfdom, during the rising of the middle class and the tumbling of the aristocracy.
The Cherry Orchard contains both elements of tragedy and comedy (an aspect of the show Chekhov himself grappled with in its early days) and The Chekhov Collective and Theatrus are successful at weaving the genres together to create laughable characters whose anguish you can feel beyond the smile – that is what’s at the core of this play.
Lyubov Ranevskaya (Rena Polley), a Russian landowner; Anya (Thalia Kane), her daughter; Yasha (Yury Ruzhyev), Ranevskaya’s manservant and Charlotta (Joy Tanner), Anya’s governess return from Paris to Ranevskaya’s lavish estate in Russia. Ranevskaya blabbers on about how happy she is to be home and how much she has missed the estate and its cherry orchard, as she reminisces about the fond childhood memories she has there.
Despite the show she puts on, the truth is soon revealed: Ranevskaya ran away to Paris with her con artist lover, in an attempt to forget about the death of her husband and the drowning of her young son. In addition to this, she is in a state of poverty, yet uncontrollably spends every bit of money lent to her, and the family’s grand estate, including the cherry orchard, is to be sold in order to pay off their debts.
Directed by Dmitry Zhukovsky, the cast performs the classic in all its glory, with Polley and Richard Sheridan Willis (playing Ranevskaya’s brother Gaev) frustratingly depicting the aristocratic mindset of that time period. Dogged in their ways and their spending habits, they nonchalantly continue to throw money away, unconcerned with the auctioning off of their property until the very end.
Other notable performances include John Gilbert playing Firs, the family’s elderly manservant, and Joy Tanner as the governess/family magician.
Gilbert’s performance is a little bit of looney and a whole lot of charming. He has the perfect comedic timing, adding in his snarky remarks about the way life on the estate used to be in every conversation, all the way until the final scene where Gilbert ends the play in utter heartbreak.
Tanner is a lively pleasure, bouncing around the stage performing magic tricks for the family and providing the much needed comic relief amidst an unraveling tragedy.
My one criticism about the execution of this show is that it provides us with nothing new. There is nothing that links this classic to the present day, or anything that gives the show something unique, or a little bit of sparkle, or something we haven’t seen before. It is a successfully put together and well-acted production of the material itself, but I would like to have seen it being taken a step further.
The aesthetic designs for the show are all simple, yet work well (though I secretly hoped a tree would fall onto the stage in the final scene, that may have been asking for too much).
The set design by Dimitrii Khilchenko split the stage into three sections: the nursery, the cherry orchard and the family’s sitting room, which smoothly incorporated all the scenes with few transitions, and was accompanied by naturalistic, mood-setting sound and lighting by Rob Bertola and Joseph Patrick.
Costume designer Kateryna Maryevch added the final touches to the show creating fitting looks from Russian travel clothing to evening gowns, reminiscent of the period.
I recommend The Cherry Orchard to Chekhov lovers who want to indulge in a classic favourite for the night, but desire nothing more. This play is like a straight shot of Chekhov. No lemon. No sugar. Take it as you will.