All this, and a cherry on top!
The Cherry Orchard
By Anton Chekhov, in a version by Jean-Claude Van Itallie
Directed by David Epstein
Invisible City Theatre Company
Manhattan Theatre Source
177 MacDougal St. (btwn 8th St. and Waverly Pl.)
Equity showcase (closes May 21)
Review by Julie Marcus
The Invisible City Theatre Company’s pristine production of The Cherry Orchard made it surprisingly delightful to watch miserable, self-involved characters wade in their self-pitying past. An extremely difficult feat!
The Cherry Orchard opens with Madame Ranevskaya returning home with her daughter, Anya, to her family estate only to be told by Lopakhin (a former serf, now turned self-made man) that it is to be sold at an auction for debt. Instead of listening to Lopakhin’s advice to tear down the cherry orchard estate and rent it out, Madame Ranevskaya procrastinates by riding out her emotional waves of memories with her family, friends, and serfs. Thus, much of the play is spent with Ranevskaya’s company trying to cheer her up. Meanwhile, there are love pursuits and love losses amidst philosophical discussions. In the end, though, the cherry orchard is lost to Lopakhin, whose ancestors used to be slaves of the estate. As the play closes, the last sounds heard are those of axes cutting down the orchard.
Overall the production was sharp. The set was extremely well-designed with detailed attention and accommodated the intimate theater. Thanks to the foresight of Ed McNamee, the set designer, the scene changes were smooth. In addition, the importance and beauty of the cherry orchard were highlighted by the ever-present sight of the white cherry blossoms through the windows. The lighting design by Jason J. Rainone was also very thoughtful. The lighting complemented the set with warm tones of orange and blue, signifying the passing months of May through October, sunrise to sunset, beginnings and endings -- a major theme of the play. The costumes by Michael Bevins were well-tailored and well-suited for the characters. For example, the daughters of Ranevskaya, Anya and Varya, both wore graceful off-white dresses, signifying their purity and innocence of the hardships of reality.
Although the story and the bouts of philosophical dialog are extremely interesting, loud applause must be granted to all of the actors. Playing extremely difficult characters who recall their lives’ treacheries and are bound by their self-inflicted maladies is quite a task. Nevertheless, the actors were fearless and invested in their characters. Ranevskaya (Cindy Keiter), Anya (Rebecca Miller) and Varya (Beth White) all wore their heartson their sleeve with great courage. Gayev (Steve Deighan) and Simeonov-Pishchik (A. Michael Elian) had great comedic moments along with the impressive cast (Elizabeth Horn, Gerry Lehane, Erik Martel, Richard Kohn, Cecelia Frontero, Zac Springer, J.T. Patton, and John Wright). The direction by David Epstein was extremely interesting because it incorporated more modern humor and moments in well-known play. The themes of social change, pride, narcissism and the human condition were clearly understood by the end of the well-staged production. After seeing The Cherry Orchard, audiences will be thankful they have a (hopefully) less dramatic life and perhaps will do as Ranevskaya says, “Instead of going to a play, look at yourselves -- look at your lives and all the stupid things you say.”
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Copyright 2005 Julie Marcus