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A CurtainUp Review
The Cherry Orchard
By Nicole Bergot
The very talented cast of the Pearl Theatre Company has come together to perform Chekov’s classic The Cherry Orchard. Under the solid direction of Joseph Hardy, who returns to this theatre after 33 years, they come to a consensus which addresses the ongoing debate over whether this play is a comedy, as Chekov insisted, or the tragedy that it has commonly been treated as on stage.
The Pearl’s Resident Acting Company (playing ten of the 13 roles) does a fine job of weaving both the comic and tragic to expose the complexities of human emotion when confronted with great loss amidst transformation; in this case losing property of great physical and symbolic significance in response to the changing face of Russia. The cherry orchard encapsulates the history, hopes and desires of one family. That family serves as a microcosm for examining the transformation of Russian society.
The actors bring depth and substance to the eclectic group of characters. Joanne Camp captures Lyubov Ranevskaya's strength as well as her penchant for hysteria. She makes us identify with her deep sense of loss when the cherry orchard which has been her refuge and repository of every locked away memory is taken from her. Juxtaposed with this heaviness we have the lighter and more comedic tone set by the simple chambermaid Dunyasha delightfully brought to life by Jennifer Lynn Thomas. Also adding a comic touch is the ancient valet fears played by a Pearl favorite, John Wylie. Even in these comic roles, however, are complex and speak to the uncertainty felt by the transition of Russia’s owning class and its effects on the people most oppressed by the old system.
An especially intriguing portrayal comes from Dan Daily as Yermolay Lopachin, the speculator with ambitious plans to subdivide the cherry orchard and make it profitable. His is the emerging voice of Russia, that of the necessary new money sensibility that is offensive to those who cherish the orchard. Daily shows us the man with all his insensitive and vulgar ambition. At the same time he reveals his conflicted feelings -- his compassion for the family about to be driven from their land countered by the deep-seated shame and anger of being born into the class working on the land rather than playing under its cherry blossoms.
The predominantly blue and green set done by Beowulf Boritt, brings the orchard into house and leaves the effective impression of how central the fate of the land is to these lives and to the future of Russia. Stephen Petrilli 's lighting design also enhances the production. When the family retreats to the orchard, the filtered light on their faces as though the sun was barely managing to penetrate the dense blossoms on the cherry trees is exquisite.
The succes of color and lighting is undermined by the strange choice of backdrop: A transparent screen with a bright, nearly cartoonish painting of a sun and fields and a typical Russian skyline that stands on its own and offers nothing to the drama on stage. This may be intended as a representation of the world beyond the orchard but it it is never comfortably incorporated into the action and thus is a curious distraction. At any rate it's not a big enough flaw to spoil this engaging rendition of Chekov’s classic .
Editor's Note: CurtainUp has reviewed several other productions of The Cherry Orchard. Links to these and other Chekhov reviews can be found in our Chekhov backgrounder