Burns and Turner Review Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” by Walking the dog at PS 21 [Berkshire on Stage]
by Gail Burns and Abby Turner
Gail Burns: I always start my reviews of Chekhov with the disclaimer that you are either a Chekhov person or not a Chekhov person – it is a genetic trait like blue eyes or freckles – and there is nothing I can write and nothing any director/cast/crew can do to change that. I am a Chekhov person. What many people find inscrutible and dull I find fascinating and clever and often side-splittingly funny.
That being said, The Cherry Orchard, his last play, which was written over a period of years and finally performed in 1904, is not his funniest even though Chekhov himself called it a “farce.” Neither the original director, the legendary Constantin Stanislavski, nor David Anderson here in this Walking the dog production, played it for laughs. This production is also based on a translation by Carol Rocamora that is new to me.
Abby Turner: Obviously we need one of your snappy summaries of the play. You are so good at it, and you know the play much better than I do.
Gail: Liubóv Andréyevna Ranyévskaya (Lora Lee Ecobelli) and her brother Leonid Andréyich Gáyev (Glenn Barrett) arrive back at their ancestral home in May, when the cherry orchard is in bloom, with their family and servants. Mme. Ranyévskaya has an adopted daughter, Varya (Lily Balsen), who runs the estate along with Firs the butler (David Wade Smith), Semyón Yepikhódov (Gabriel Rodriguez) the clerk/bookkeeper, and Dunyasha (Natalie Li-Ting Wong) the maid. Ánya (Josephine Elwood), Mme. Ranyévskaya’s biological daughter, who is all of seventeen, arrives with mother and her uncle, along with Anya’s governess Charlotta (Nancy Rothman) and a manservant Yásha (Joseph Freeman). Neighbors Yermolái Alexéyich Lopákhin (John Romualdi) and Boris Semyónov-Pishchik (Philip X. Levine) are permanent fixtures in the family’s life, as is a “perpetual student” Pétya Trofimov (Paul Boothroyd) who is in love with Ánya. Kevin Kilb plays both the stationmaster and a down-trodden passerby who comes begging during a family outing in Act II, and Simon Frishkoff plays two other small roles.
The Cherry Orchard is all about change, and the inability of the this family to accept or manage it. Their country estate, including the house and a sizable cherry orchard as well as other lands, is being auctioned off to pay the mortgage. Although different options for keeping the house, if not the land, in the family are proposed, the family remain immobilized by a lack of courage and imagination, and ultimately the estate is purchased by Lopákhin, a noveau riche merchant whose ancestors were literally owned by the family as serfs. Although it is rumored throughout that he will marry to Varya, he never proposes, and so the house and land passes from the family’s grasp forever.