A hundred years after Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard opened in the Moscow Art Theatre, another production of that play has opened in the Cleveland Play House. This is a unique production: First, the director and the cast have adapted the play and changed the title to An Orchard; second, the cast is the Graduate Ensemble of 2012 of the MFA program at Case Western Reserve University. These students do much of their work in the Cleveland Play House.
Mark Alan Gordon (director) and the cast have made the script accessible. The early translations of Chekhov's works were literal translations. Gordon and the cast started with a theatrical piece and created a work that is easily understood and not as pedantic as earlier translations we usually see on the stage. The awkwardness has been replaced by realistic conversation. Yes, the characters remain as unthinking and unthoughtful as their original counterparts. But they are living characters, incapable of caring for themselves or the beloved orchard.
Jill Davis (scenic designer) has created a useful set in the Studio One Theatre. The walls of the large black-box studio are swathed in heavy curtains, most seem to be velvet. Characters occasionally pull a drape back to reveal the light of the Russian sun. Scattered throughout the theater, including where the audience sits, Davis has placed white birch trees that extend from the floor to the ceiling. The audience is seated in irregularly placed chairs of the style one might expect to have seen in Russia a hundred years ago. The chairs seem to be a mixturesome with arms, some plain; others are almost throne-like. This isn't a prop room gone wild, but the chairs of a Russian mansion.
Jeffrey Van Curtis (costume designer) has dressed the characters in appropriate costumes for the Chekhov period. Lubov or Lovey has frittered away the family's fortune in Paris. Her elegant costumes represent the most expensive that France had to offer at the time. She seems to have a different dress for each scene and each dress seems more expensive and elegant than the last. The costumes help tell the story of An Orchard.
Gordon maintains an integrity to the original The Cherry Orchard and, yet, manages to work with a new adaptation that tells the same story in a bright, fast-paced style. The director's work is supported by a talented cast. Easily we forget these are students. I assume most are only a notch away from an Equity card.
Kelli Ruttle makes Ranyevskaya (Lovey) glamorous and still unbelievably stupid. As the bank forecloses on the family's estate, including the mansion and the beloved cherry orchard, she spends time in Paris and returns to stage a large, expensive party including a full orchestra. She gives gold coins to beggars, then cries when forced to leave the estate.
Dan Hendrock creates a Lopakhin who is on surface a villain. He is the son of a serf who worked the orchard. He grew to manhood and managed his money. At the auction he buys the cherry orchard and seems to take delight in moving the unthinking Lovey and her kin out of the family home.
All of the cast members are strong. If the future of the American theater is in the hands of these actors, we have little to worry about.
Unfortunately, this production of An Orchard will end without the long run it deserves. I hope Gordon and company's adaptation is made available to other theater companiesit is first-rate.
Studio One Theatre at The Cleveland Play House
- David Ritchey