Modern Times Stage Company in association with Crow’s Theatre presents
THE CHERRY ORCHARD
Written by Anton Chekhov
Translated by Elisaveta Lavrova
Directed by Soheil Parsa
Featuring: Arsinée Khanjian, Keshia Palm, Tara Nicodemo, Cliff Saunders, Steven Bush, Oyin Oladejo, Courtenay Stevens, Colin Doyle, Diana Tso, Andrew Scorer, Alix Sideris, Aaron Willis.
As Modern Times Stage Company moves toward its 30th anniversary it is worth noting that this company has been incorporating the aesthetics of diversity and identity as a philosophy into the forefront of their work since 1989. What is now still an awakening for some theatre companies has been their memorandum of understanding with the general public and their patrons since MTSC’s founding three decades ago.
What a happy way to celebrate this occasion, then, by inviting us all to come by and spend an evening with Modern Times in the company of the greatest of all the modernist playwrights, Anton Chekhov. It would be difficult to call out my favorite Chekhov play or to try to rate them by some kind of metric system (1, 2, 3, 4 stars?!). There is genius in all of them but The Cherry Orchard speaks especially to our times. It is at once fatalistic and optimistic, you choose the path you want to follow of your own free will after all the talk is finished. And there is a lot of talk. But it’s great talk.
At one point in the first act, Gayev (Cliff Saunders), the brother of Lyubov (Arsinée Khanjian), the woman who owns the estate with its attendant cherry orchard, all of a sudden turns his attention to a bookcase and offers a heartfelt salute to the good service performed by this piece of furniture for over one hundred years. It is a short speech that could stand on its own as a sublime piece of serious poetry but here Chekhov uses it as a throwaway, with Gayev mocking himself only moments later for such a foolish and absurd act as to salute a bookcase. The playwright is starting to draw us into the life of his characters as well as the character and life of one of the set pieces!
Many more surprises await in this deeply affecting production, directed by the sure and knowledgeable hand of Soheil Parsa who has so ably led the MTSC over the years. His insight into the text is striking, and he readily admits in his program notes that he has been waiting a number of years to stage The Cherry Orchard a second time after encountering it at an earlier stage in his career.
The first indicator of the director’s good judgement was to find a Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya. In casting Arsinée Khanjian he has made just the right choice. Over the years, a number of critics have misinterpreted the character as being joyless and without spiritual or emotional energy. This is a misreading of the text and one suspects that they would like to see another Arkadina from The Seagull – the bourgeois actor, all false flattery and transparent histrionics – really the direct opposite of Lyubov who is indecisive, dithering and flighty. She has made poor choices in life – especially with regard to men – and she does not boast any of the success that Arkadina enjoys when we first meet her in the first act of The Seagull. Arkadina experiences tragedy at the end of The Seagull whereas Lyubov has experienced tragedy in her personal life (including the death of her son) before she makes her first entrance. As a play, The Cherry Orchard does not revolve around Lyubov, she revolves around it.
Another excellent bit of casting that lends a refreshing new interpretation to the role is that of Lopakhin (Oyin Oladejo), the son of a peasant who is now a rising member of the bourgeoisie as a result of his expertise in business. Oladejo imbues the role with an optimism and an enthusiasm for new business opportunities that is written into the script. His (the role is gender bent so “his” is really an inappropriate pronoun) delightfully cheerful mien, brings a sincerity to the character that rings true. There is some of Chekhov (who also was born into the lower class) in Lopakhin.
But it is left to young Trofimov (Aaron Willis), the idealistic student whose revolutionary rhetoric, although softly spoken, signals the profound changes that are rapidly unfolding beyond the small town mentality in which he resides. The Cherry Orchard premiered in January, 1904, at the Moscow Art Theatre. The aborted Revolution of 1905 and the successful October Revolution of 1917 would bring sweeping changes to Chekhov’s beloved homeland although he would never live to see them.
Stanislavski reminds us that there are no small parts in the plays, only small actors and the rest of the ensemble plays perfectly in tune throughout. Keshia Palm (Anya), Tara Nicodemo (Varya), Steven Bush (Simeonov-Pishchik), Courtenay Stevens (Yepikhodov), Colin Doyle (Yasha), Diana Tso (Dunyasha), Andrew Scorer (Firs),and Alix Sideris (Charlotta) philosophize, conjure and bemuse the hard facts of transitioning from the old world to the new.
Six months after the play’s premiere, Chekhov succumbed to the tuberculosis that had been plaguing him for almost a decade. The Cherry Orchard reminds us in a very timely way that the world he described is still a work in progress.