by Lynn on July 31, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

(L) Jesse Dwyer and (R) James R. Woods

At Guild Festival Theatre. Written by Anton Chekhov. English version by Michael Henry Heim. Directed by Sten Eirik. Original music by David Buchbinder. Scenic consultant, Troy Hourie. Costumes by Bonnie Deakin. Lighting by Amanda Gougeon. Starring Paul Amato, Jesse Dwyre, John Jarvis, Dawna Wightman.

This is a brave venture. This is the first production of the Guild Festival Theatre Company, dedicated to presenting the classics at this beautiful outdoor venue, close to the Scarborough Bluffs.

It seemed that almost every chair was filled last night when I saw the production. Always a good thing to have bums in seats to see theatre.

The play of course is Chekhov’s masterpiece about an impoverished family who cling to their estate and their beloved cherry orchard instead of selling the orchard to at least pay off the family’s debts.

Lyubov Ranevskaya, the grand dame of the family, hasn’t actually been home to Russia in years. She chooses to spend her time in Paris usually being bilked of what little money she has by the men with whom she has relationships.

She and her equally silly brother Gaev are urged to sell the Orchard by Yermolai Lopakhin, once a peasant, now a rich businessman. He suggest they lease the land for cottages so they will be able to pay their debts. If they don’t do that the cherry orchard will be put up for auction.

Ranyevska refuses to listen. The inevitable happens.

Chekhov’s play is both comic and sad. All those people holding onto the cherry orchard because it represents better times; the family’s former importance and because it holds so many memories. Both Ranevskaya and Gaev never give a thought to the money they need for the mounting debts.

Varya, Ranevskaya’s adopted daughter manages the house as best as she can, but it’s impossible with a mother as childish and blinkered as Ranevskaya is.

There is such subtlety in the play and of course any production cries out for it. Realizing that subtlety is a difficult task when the play is done in a proper indoor theatre, and very difficult when done out doors. And while the grounds of the Guild Festival Theatre are beautiful, many things conspired to prevent those subtleties and much of the poignant moments in the play from being realized.

As with such outdoor ventures, many of the cast are emerging, just finding their way into a career of theatre, from a life at theatre school.

As Varya, Kanika Ambrose has some lovely moments, especially in the scene in which Varya is longing for Lopakhin to propose.

As Yasha, a snobbish servant to Ranevskaya, James Patrick Pettitt is imposing and commanding at once.

In the role of Ranevskaya, I find it interesting that Dawna Wightman decided to play her as a silly, frivolous woman, but I missed the nuances of the character that would make her deeper than superficial.

The best performance is Jesse Dwyer as Trofimov, a perpetual student. He has a strong sense of the character, his integrity and his frustration at dealing with these people. This is a thoughtful, intelligent actor who digs deep into his character and it shows.

I feel that director Sten Eirik could have used the space better and quickened the pace in some draggy scenes. During intermission he helped the stage manager arrange a vase on the set and spent considerable time adjusting the flowers in it just so. I wish that kind of attention would have been put on the rest of the production.

However, the tenacity to form a theatre company that does the classics outdoors during the summer is to be applauded.

The Cherry Orchard plays until July 31, 2011.

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