Waiting for the ax to fall

The Cherry Orchard

By Anton Chekhov
Directed by Darren Gobert
Jovial Crew
The Connelly Theatre
220 East 4th Street 414-7773
The Fourth Annual Chekhov NOW Festival (closes Nov. 23)
Review by Jade Esteban Estrada

Director Konstantin Stanislavski directed The Cherry Orchard for the first time in 1904 for the Moscow Art Theatre. Ninety-eight years later, director Darren Gobert visualized a stark and high-tech portrait for this unique version of the play currently playing at the Connelly Theatre as part of the Chekhov NOW Festival. In the telling and retelling of old plays like this Russian favorite, it's commonplace to see shockingly different adaptations that rise above the original script and take us to cool places like--rock concerts.

Madame Ranyevskaia (Terria Joseph) and her daughter Ania (Dalia Farmer) arrive from Paris to find that the family estate is about to be sold at an auction to settle their sizable debts. Lopakhin, a former serf, has become a wealthy landowner and suggests to them in goodwill that they should consider turning the property into a popular villa site. Pride and procrastination prevent the aristocrats from accepting the idea. The auction day comes and Lopakhin reveals that he (in this production, "she") is the one who bought the estate where his grandfather and father had been serfs.

The serfs were dressed in modern pink and black punk rock outfits with "Madonna microphones," while the gentry, in beige attire from 1902, were without microphones. Throughout the entire play the audience was relentlessly reminded that the voice of the working class was soon to rise against the aristocracy.

Madam Ranyevskaia was played with delectable comic grandeur, and her majestic lines were drawn out to tremendous effect. Her brother Gayev, played by Alex Greenshields, conjured up a believable sloth. The pair raised aristocratic mayhem and were amusing to observe.

However, the real showstopper of the evening was the very talented (Miss) Kaitlin Kratter as Lopakhin (a role traditionally played by a man), who entered with such impassive authority and grace as to suggest that Chekhov himself wrote the lines only for her. When Kratter re-entered in tap shoes to plead with Ranyevskaia and Gayev once more before the show's end, the tapping of her shoes was eerie.

Gobert put the final monologue of the butler Feers (played by Peter Judd) on a projection screen while the lines were delivered. Considering that Chekhov's own grandfather was a serf himself in the 1860s, the old man's lines are touching.

The set was bare with the exception of the two projection screens, which presented a photo of a parlor from the era (in lieu of a set), and state the act and scene being played or a poignant line from the piece. "Clever people are so stupid" was projected on the screen throughout Trofimov (Ted Hewlett)'s endless monologue.

The servants walked around completing their chores, patiently waiting for the downfall of their masters. Some chewed gum while others laughed in their employers' faces at the latter's ignorance.

Lighting was well-designed (though uncredited) to complement the compellingly modern music by Matt Griffin, while Anna-Alisa Belous excelled with brilliant costumes. Of particular note was Joseph's very grand Ranyevskaia costume, which floated four feet behind her like a million-dollar veil.

With a festival devoted entirely to the work of a revolutionary playwright like Chekhov, it is to be assumed that none of his plays are safe from brilliant adaptations by modern-era artists who have a desire to retell these loved stories in their own unique way. It's a revolution in itself.

The production also starred Laura Wickens, Irene Antoniazzi, and Jaqui Lynch.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2002 Jade Esteban Estrada