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The Cherry Orchard

a Comedy/Drama
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Anton Chekhov

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 1270

SHOWING : July 07, 2005 - August 05, 2005

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Georgia Shakespeare celebrates its core acting company as the characters in Anton Chekhov's poignant masterpiece cling feverishly to their past while progress threatens to bulldoze their precious memories into oblivion. Carolyn Cook leads the ensemble as Madame Ranevskaya, a proud woman who returns home to Russia after years away in Paris. She learns that debts are mounting, servants are grumbling, and the family estate is about to be auctioned off to developers. Don't miss this intensely personal story of a grand family on the verge of losing it all and the deals they must strike in order to move forward.


CAST & CREW LIST
Assistant Stage Manager Rita Ann Marcec
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REVIEWS

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This Year's Miss
by Dedalus
Monday, August 15, 2005
2.0
Normally, I’m predisposed to enjoyed the GSF Productions at Oglethorpe, but each year, one of the offerings can be a bit off. This year, it’s this classic Chekhov work, despite some fine work by the design team, and some intermittently involving moments from the actors.

To be honest, this is my first exposure to this play since reading it 30 years ago as part of a college course on comedy. My memory of the plot details was fairly slim, so I went into this production with a relatively “clean slate” – that is, I had no preconceptions of what to expect.

What I found was a collection of characters, many of who seem to be from different plays. That is, they seemed to be in their own little universes, totally oblivious to everyone else on stage. I had no sense of what part some of them played in the plot (particularly the governess Charlotta, the valet Yasha, and the neighbor Pishchik, whose frequent descent into narcolepsy seemed more of a vaudeville schtick than a character trait). Considering the sense of alienation often found in Chekhov, I thought at first this might have been a deliberate artistic choice. To be fair, I went back to the script, re-reading it. I was surprised to find some scenes that were cut from this adaptation, scenes that connected these characters with the rest of the cast.

Curiously, the introduction of my version says the following:

“[All the] characters are necessary, functional; they are not merely added for atmosphere. Without any one of them, certain moments of conflict or revelation would not be possible in this drama. ,,, Seeing the play professionally produced leaves no doubt of the brilliantly plotted interrelations. If the stagings do not stress this, it is because the directors have not understood Chekhov’s meaning and method.” (from COMEDY: A CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY, Robert W. Corrigan, ed., introductions by Glenn M. Loney, p. 386).

The ironic thing is that the director’s notes in the program show an understanding of this point – “The thrall – the thrill – of The Cherry Orchard is not its plot nor its external events but its movement within, its depth of character …” (“Director’s Notes” by Sabin Epstein). So, my question here is, what happened between conception and realization?

I have two observations that may shed some light:

I’ve always believed that one of the “keys” to any production of Chekhov is making the characters “likeable” (although I have to confess a dislike of that particular term). Most of his plays are chamber pieces in which characters conflict more with societal and outside forces than with each other. Chekhov is one of the most non-judgmental playwrights of the 20th-century. Even the supposedly “bad” characters have a core of humanity that makes them understandable and easy to like.

I found a lot of the characters in this particular production very unlikable – particular, the eternal student Trofimov and the bitter adopted daughter Varya, a reaction I didn’t have re-reading the script. Here, they came across as if they had been subjected to the director’s judgment and found wanting. Even Lyubov’s generosity – admittedly one of the causes of the family’s problems – came across in a negative light, as if it is somehow a vice to be generous. Although this meshes with the events of the play, it grates with what we know about human nature, and with what I’ve always believed to be the essence of Chekhov. I think equal blame must be placed on translator/adaptor, director, and actors for these shortfallings.

My second observation was the production seemed to rely too much on “stage effect” and schtick that may have undercut some of the more subtle interplay that would have given us a more involving staging. I’ve already mentioned the narcoleptic snores of Pishchik as a “bit” that didn’t work, but I must also mention the final moment of the play. Chris Kayser’s Feers lies center stage with a last dying gasp, giving a dramatic gesture to the sky that echoed too closely his final “Cyrano” moments from last season. This runs counter to the scripted “Out with Whimper” conclusion, which underscores the slow and gradual fading of life that so nicely mirrors the theses built throughout the play. The moment, for me, just made no sense.

That’s not to say that there was nothing that worked – The set cleverly integrated three scenes into a single setting, and the costumes were the most beautiful I’ve seen in ages (I’m not especially qualified to judge their accuracy). The lighting helped with the mood, though it did very little to show the night-time settings of most of the play.

To conclude, there was a moment in the opening scene that showed in a nutshell what was wrong with the entire production. The former serf Lopahin tells the maid a story that, in reality, there was no reason to tell, since it was something she had to have known already. The only way to make a scene like this work is for him to make us believe this was a story he relished, that he told over and over again, and for her to have an exasperated “Here we go again with this” air. Instead, it is played perfectly straight. I was reminded of the old “Muppets” joke – “It’s exposition! It has to go somewhere!”

And, in my humble opinion, it takes a really dramatic mis-step to make any Chekhov seem contrived.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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