THE CHERRY ORCHARD – Written by Anton Chekhov; Directed by Len Matheo. Produced by Miners Alley Performing Arts Center (1224 Washington Avenue, Golden) through November 5. Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or minersalley.com.
While Chekhov gets the credit for the original idea in 1904 of writing a play about the pre-Revolutionary decay of the aristocracy through the eyes of one family, this version was translated from the Russian by American playwright Stephen Karam. A success in his own right, Karam created a slightly Americanized version while retaining the deep-seated cultural markers of Chekhov’s original. While this version retains the Russian tongue-twisting names, it softens the mood by highlighting the humorous aspects of the family members and adding small changes such as moving the usual off-stage ball to an on-stage dance sequence. The family idiosyncracies and extended relationships retain their shape and purpose.
A Russian family descends on the ancestral estate after a five-year absence in the hopes of a miracle to forestall the auction block. Somehow simply by the arrival of Lyubov, the matriarch (Mare Trevathan), and her brother Gaev (Brik Berkes), the angels are supposed to descend from the Heavens and save the homestead. The daughters are Varya (Jenna Moll Reyes) who has been keeping the home fires (barely) burning for these five years and Anya (Kira Wendland), the beauty of the family. The rest are needy neighbors and servants. Charlotta (Amy Arpan) is a former governess now turned into an amusing magician; Yasha (Brandon Billings) is a manservant accompanying Lyubov but anxious to return to the more civilized Paris; Dunyasha is a saucy maid at the estate who fancies herself an equal to the aristocracy she serves. Yepikhodov is the estate clerk who has asked Dunyasha to marry him, although she is more interested in Yasha for his urban sophistication and predatory ways. And Firs is the ever-faithful butler to Gaev and everyone’s “grandfather” figure.
The lone outsider is Lopakhin who grew up on the estate with his father who was a farmer for Lyubov’s father. A sensible and clever businessman who has made a success of his financial life (to his own surprise), he offers suggestions to the family for getting out of their monetary difficulties. But since his bright idea calls for saving the estate by destroying it (cutting down the cherry orchard and parceling the land out to developers of vacation homes), his ideas are soundly rejected. But no one else has a better idea, so they decide to have a party and ignore the problem. They must finally say goodbye to the home they have loved but not treasured and go back to Paris.
This first class cast zips through the scenario with enthusiasm. Mare Trevathan as Lyubov creates a woman joyful at being at home but unwilling to accept the reality of this last trip. She is giddy with delight at times; then thrown in the despair of futility. Brik Berkes plays her talkative pompous brother who hasn’t a serious thought in his head. Everyone is always telling him not to talk anymore. He just loves the sound of his own voice. Jenna Moll Reyes as the stay-at-home daughter with her ring of important keys, matronly manner, and tightly wound nerves, also seems to think the arrival of her mother and uncle will signal the end of her futile efforts at keeping the farms and house going. Her disappointment only makes her angrier. She is more than a little fond of Lopakhim (Rob Payo) who could be the answer to her prayers if only he weren’t too shy or felt unworthy to act on his feelings.
Dunyasha is given a bouncy breezy portrayal by Samantha Piel who is unwilling to consider the slow and steady Yepikhodov (Matthew Murry) as a suitor in favor of Yasha, the much more handsome and worldly candidate as played by Brandon Billings. Tannis Joaquin Gonzales is the everlasting student Trofimov is “above love” with his grandiose philosophies ground in unreality. Anya (Kira Wnedland) is enamored by his high-blown ideas and will probably find a way to support his on-going “studies.”
Rob Payo does a great job at highlighting these idle dreamers who have NO idea of the surprises around the corner in 1917. His own work ethic and common-sense approach is tempered by his desire to be accepted by these people. He cannot believe that his financial position has changed everything . . . and nothing.
Comic relief abounds throughout. Logan Ernstthal is the needy neighbor who always manages to lead the conversation back to the subject of a loan of 240 or maybe 320 rubles. Amy Arpan jumps into the scene occasionally with a card trick or a little ventriloquism to be the court jester because they have nothing else for her to do as a governess. And the ever-faithful Firs the butler wins smiles with his unending delivery of drinks and coats for Gaev, his pseudo-son.
THE CHERRY ORCHARD was deemed a comedy by its author. Although the actors could have donned present day clothing and Americanized their names to connect its themes of societal decay to present day life, I choose instead to enjoy it as intended, a look at a family in distress who somehow survive. And go on as we all must.
Director Len Matheo and Scenic Designer Jonathan Scott-McKean chose not to surround the stage with cherry references and give the players a clean minimalist playing area. John Houser’s sound design give us subtle ominous echoes of chopping trees and rousing Russian music. The dance sequence grounded in Russian folk steps was choreographed by Angie Simmons. Steffani Bolmer-Day’s costumes – both elaborate and plain – kept us firmly planted in the era, class and locale.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!