by Lynn on February 8, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

Cherry_Stella444At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Dmitry Zhukovsky
Set by Dimitrii Khilchenko
Costumes by Kateryna Maryevch
Lighting by Joseph Patrick
Sound and music by Rob Bertola
Cast: Neil Foster
John Gilbert
Nina Gilmour
Clayton Gray
Llyandra Jones
Thalia Kane
Andrew Pogson
Rina Polley
Yury Ruzhyev
Joy Tanner
Harrison Thomas
Richard Sheridan Willis
Dmitry Zhukovsky

A production that barely scratches the surface of investigation of this complex play with a few performances that try to rise to the occasion.

NOTE: This production opened when I was away in England. I only just caught up with it on Feb. 5/16.

The Story. Lyubov Ranevskaya and her brother Leonid Gaev own an estate with a celebrated cherry orchard, both of which have seen better days. Ranevskaya has come home to Russia from Paris for solace after a love affair went bad. She is greeted by her hard-working adopted daughter Varya, the servants and Yermolai Lopakhin, a rich merchant and a bit of a bumpkin who grew up on the estate. The estate has incurred terrible debts. Lopakhin suggests they sell the estate, chop down the orchard and parcel up the land for summer cottages. This notion is unheard of to Ranevskaya and Gaev. If they don’t decide the place will be auctioned Aug. 22. The day of the auction comes and the inevitable sale. The name of the buyer is a shock but not really so.

The Production. Dimitrii Khilchenko’s sprawling, cluttered set of the manor house spreads all across the wide stage of the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs. Way over there stage right is a piano that is played twice; there are pots of white trees strewn around the set; ornate furniture; a detailed child’s room or large playroom, stage left, with a rocking horse and full-sized cardboard structures with a place for a person to stick in his/her face. There is other stuff to suggest a life of accumulation.

It’s the middle of the night and the household is waiting for Ranevskaya to arrive from the train station. Everyone is atwitter. A young maidservant expresses how happy she is. Director Dmitry Zhukovsky then has her twirl with her arms out for emphasis. My heart sinks. Chekhov’s words aren’t enough to express joy; she has to perform a clichéd twirl. As Ranevskaya, Rena Polley enters gracefully, revelling in being the centre of attention. She is gracious and a bit overly-dramatic, which is right for this overly-dramatic character. Her brother Gaev sucks candies and rattles on about nothing, peppering his speech with various billiards moves, such as what ball is in the side pocket. Gaev should be a bit out of it, but as played by Richard Sheridan Willis, seems too present, too aware and not at all in another world.

Varya (Llyandra Jones) is the one who really takes care of the estate, trying to make ends meet. She is rushed off her feet with work. She is also emotionally frustrated in her life. She is not taken seriously. She has to contend with the scorn of others, namely Trofimov, a student. And she is anxious that Lopokhin propose even though it’s not clear she has any feeling for him. Llyandra Jones as Varya is staunch, true and emotional. This is a finely detailed, moving performance.

Much is made of this proposed match. People suggest to Lopokhin (Andrew Pogson) and to Varya that they are in love with the other. In reality that’s not so evident. Pogson is very contemporary. I don’t get the sense from this actor that he has dug deeply into Lopakhin who I find so complex and conflicted.

He seems more interested in making money and trying to help Ranevskaya see the reality facing the estate. He does not have feelings for Varya. He has feelings for Ranevskaya that goes back to when he was a boy.

Still the scene when Varya is waiting for Lopakhin to propose is aching and the best directed scene in the play, in large part because of the way that Llyandra Jones plays the scene.

While I found much of the acting not deep enough into the character, I am impressed with Harrison Thomas as Trofimov. He is impassioned, blinkered, and committed.

Comment: The Chekhov Collective is a group of actors who wish to explore the plays of Chekhov using the methods of his nephew, Michael Chekhov. They then produce a production of their exploration. Admirable. They make their own work/luck by producing productions in which to act, where perhaps they might not have other opportunities.

Theatrus is a company that was formed to explore cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural spheres. Both companies are working together on this project of The Cherry Orchard. The acting is wildly varied from those who seem out of their depth to those who have an idea of what they are doing and are digging into the play and the characters. The direction also seems a bit eye-brow-knitting; cluttered, sprawling, always keeping characters moving; that air-sucking twirl to suggest the obvious expressed in the text; but a good staging of the ‘proposal scene’ at the end of the play. Bravo to these companies for making their own work and productions. I just wish the result was better.

The Chekhov Collective and Theatrus present:

Opened: January 29, 2016.
Closes: February 14, 2016.
Cast: 13; 8 men, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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