A well-balanced brew

 

THE COFFEE TREES

 

Written by Arthur Giron

Suggested by Anton Chekhovís THE CHERRY ORCHARD

Directed by Dr. Marion Castleberry

Resonance Ensemble (http://www.resonanceensemble.org)

Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Aves.)

Equity Showcase (closed)

Review by Michael D. Jackson

 

Playing in repertory with a slightly adapted The Cherry Orchard, Arthur Gironís take on the story, now set in 1997 Guatemala, is more of the comedy that Chekhov claimed his original play to be.The idea of The Cherry Orchard being classified as a comedy has always been debatable and certainly the Resonance Ensembleís production was not a comedy, but Gironís version filled the story with plenty of humor and director Dr. Marion Castleberry directed the play like a comedy with a swift pace that skipped along with merriment for the first act.The second act, however, turned to the dramatic for the most part, veering far from the plot of Chekhovís original to become a new play.This is not a good thing necessarily, for the new story rambles around and seems to end three times, with comedy bits interjected at ludicrous moments.Finally, this story, unlike the original, comes to a tidy and much happier ending that did Chekhovís play.

 

The matriarch of this version, Elena Reyes de Escalante, was embodied with all the dramatic majesty of Judith Anderson by Christine Farrell.This is not the fragile, nostalgic Lubov Ranevsky of Chekhov, but a dynamo who truly rules the roost.She is like a lioness to her brood - a calculating, fearless protector of her family.The majority of the old characters are retained, albeit with new names and backgrounds, but their functions in the play are very different.Chief example is Pyoter Trofimov the student, now Manny the former soccer star and sports commentator.Like Trofimov, Manny (Steven Pounders) is welcomed as part of the family, so when it is he that buys the plantation rather than the former peasant character Lopez (Lopakhin in the original and played by Teddy Canez), Chekhovís family tragedy is thrown out the window for the inevitable happy ending.

 

The supporting cast was uniformly great, making the comedy work even where it shouldnít and then turning on a dime to be serious as a stroke, threatening each other with guns and managing a potentially disastrous death scene believably.Chris Ceraso played Antonio Reyes, the brother to Elena.He was a much more effective actor in this play than he was in the similar role from Chekhov, not to mention that Giron has developed the part into a more interesting person.Elizabeth A. Davis returned from the Chekhov to play Varya in the form of Barbara Escalante and she emerged as the true moral center of the family.Davis was excellent, displaying humanity and strength not evident in the original character.The other characters were all elevated and more interesting in Gironís version and were played admirably by Veronica Matta, Annie Henk, Victor Truro and Dan Domingues.

 

Dustin OíNeillís set from The Cherry Orchard was redressed from the nursery of a southern plantation to the school room of Guatemala next to a coffee plantation.The skyline above showed a looming volcano and a projected fiery sky of moving clouds, or a quiet sky of twinkling stars, thanks to Bobby Bradley.Sidney Shannon dressed the characters appropriately, revealing character as well as working in terms of practicality.The atmosphere was enhanced by Nick Mooreís sound design.

 

Overall, Gironís version of the tale, although uneven in the second act, was a much more energetic and exciting production than The Cherry Orchard.Much of the credit for this goes to Castleberry for guiding the actors towards the right tone to make the combination of high comedy and serious drama work together so well.

 

Box Score:

 

Writing: 1

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

 

Copyright 2007 by Michael D. Jackson

 

 

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