by Lynn on April 7, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

 At the Streetcar Crowsnest, Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anton Chekhov

Translation by Elisaveta Lavrova

Directed by Soheil Parsa

Scenographer, Trevor Schwellnus

Costumes by Ming Wong

Sound and composer, Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Steven Bush

Colin Doyle

Arsinée Khanjian

Tara Nicodemo

Oyin Oladejo

Keshia Palm

Cliff Saunders

Andrew Scorer

Alix Sideris

Courtney Stevens

Diana Tso

Aaron Willis

A beautiful looking production with a few good performances, but there were too many superficial performances to make this one fly.

 The Story. The Cherry Orchard is Chekhov’s 1903 brilliant classic of life in Russia with an aristocracy that clings to its archaic notions of land, tradition and entitlement. It’s about people who don’t and won’t understand the world in which they live, who cope with loss, loneliness and lack of love.

It also deals with people from the lower classes who through hard work and savvy rise up, take charge and control there lives, while still trying to get the landowner to pay attention.

Lyubov is the matriarch of the family. She returns from Paris after being away for five years to attend to the unavoidable problem of paying the mortgage for the family’s estate.

At the centre of it is the family’s beloved cherry orchard although its trees don’t bear fruit regularly. If they can’t pay the mortgage the estate will be put up for auction and sold.

Lopakhin was once a serf on that estate as was his father.  And while the aristocratic family find him to be loud and uncouth, he has become a rich man through hard work.  He suggests that the family chop down the cherry trees and build cottages to rent and thus pay for the debts and make money for the future.  They won’t hear of it.  The folly of this blinkered family.

The Production. It’s produced by Modern Times Stage Company now in it’s 30th year.

Its artistic director, and the director of this show is Soheil Parsa, a courtly, thoughtful man with a keen sense of artistry.  He and his scenographer the ever-inventive Trevor Schwellnus have created a simple but evocative set.  The action takes place on a raised platform with a large rug in the centre with smaller set pieces on which to sit arranged around the space, that also have various coverings on them.  At the back is a sky full of twinkling stars. There is a sense of faded former glory and vastness too with that sky.

Parsa has created a household full of people coming and going, hiding, confessing, looking for connection and frustration. It’s a large cast of varying abilities, resulting in too many varying results.

At the head of the household is Lyubov played by Arsinée Khanjian. Lyubov has this “glitter”about her that attracts all manner of people from peasants to hangers on etc. After all she’s just come back from Paris and there is this allure about her. None of that is present in Khanjian’s performance.  It’s superficial at best. Rather than being compelling Khanjian seems like a dowdy woman who whines all the time.

Lopakhin is played by Oyin Oladejo, an interesting bit of gender-bending casting. Besides being a woman Oladejo is also a woman of colour and I think that is a fascinating statement since Lopakhin had been treated with disdain because he was a lowly serf. Oladejo has that swagger of a man in control but also a heart who wants to help the family when he suggests they chop down the trees and build cottages.

As Trofimov, a perpetual student with a philosopher’s outlook on life, Aaron Willis has that confidence of a man who knows how to debate and defend himself. As Yasha, a hanger-on and opportunist, Colin Doyle has an easy arrogance. He looks down on everybody but with a ‘careless smile.’ It’s a beguiling performance.

The standout for me is Tara Nicodemo, as Varya, Lyubov’s adopted daughter. Varya takes care of the estate, she is really no more than a lowly servant.  Nicodemo is always in the moment, watchful, reacting, listening and present.

Much hope is put on Lupakhin proposing to her. You feel for her as she anticipates one thing with Lupakhin and has to deal with another result. It’s a performance full of detail, heart and ache.

Comment. There is much to commend this production, but in the end it stands and falls on Lyubov and the cast and this one doesn’t fully rise to the level it should.

Modern Times Stage Company in association with Crow’s Theatre:

Opened: March 29, 2019.

Closes: April 13, 2019.

Running Time:  2 hours approx.


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