The Cherry Orchard Reviewed by Terry Morgan

The Cherry Orchard
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Pacific Resident Theatre
Through Sept. 21

There have always been political takes of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Some have described it as a condemnation of the idle aristocracy, a precursor to the Russian Revolution. Others saw it as a kind farewell to a vanishing class that is being supplanted by rapacious businessmen who only find beauty in money. The play isn’t quite so simple, because Chekhov wasn’t just interested in a message, of course, as much as he was intrigued by the complexities of people. Director Dana Jackson knows this, and the new production at Pacific Resident Theatre gracefully reflects Chekhov’s funny, sad, gentle wisdom.

Ranevskaya (Marilyn Fox) and her daughter Anya (Kelsey Ritter) have returned to their Russian ancestral home after years away in Paris. They’re welcomed back by Ranevskaya’s ineffectual brother Gaev (Bruce French) and her adopted daughter Varya (Tania Getty), who are glad to see them again. Eternal student Trofimov (Kyle Johnston) quickly begins romancing Anya, and landowner Simeonov-Pishchik (Armazd Stepanian) loses no time asking for loans. It’s businessman Lopakhin, however, who’s most pleased to see Ranevskaya, offering her a way to prevent impending bankruptcy by selling the beloved family cherry orchard.

Fox’s Ranevskaya glides about in a cloud comprised of giddy happiness and dreamy memories of her past, which mostly protects her from thinking about the immediate future. Fox makes it clear, however, that underneath that oblivious façade is fear, especially in one startling scene where she tears into Trofimov with vicious and unexpected cruelty. French brings a sympathetic take to the well meaning gasbag Gaev, and Ritter sweetly portrays Anya’s surprising kindness and strength.

Most striking, however, is Conte’s businessman Lopakhin. The performance brims energy and comes limned with skill. He chooses to play Lopakhin as genuinely concerned for the family’s welfare, and subsequently ever more frustrated with their inability to act to save themselves. Thus in the end, when Lopakhin has finally acted in his own interests, the way in which Conte displays the man’s uncontainable joy and gloating — quickly realizing it’s shared by nobody else — is almost shocking, and an expert piece of acting.

Stepanian is equally excellent in the smaller role of Simeonov-Pishchik, completely believable and compelling. Although his role is largely comic, he succeeds in revealing the character’s underlying desperation in a moment where he utterly panics upon thinking he’s lost some money loaned to him. Getty does fine work as the intelligent and despairing Varya, and her final scene with Lopakhin is heartbreaking. Johnston gets Trofimov’s arrogance just right, blasting the Russian intelligentsia with vigor in a speech that reads like something possibly taken from Chekhov’s diary. Jack Winnick is memorably good as the ailing old servant Firs, and Scott Jackson is sourly amusing as the servant and wannabe Parisian, Yasha.

Jackson gets good performances from her ensemble and manages all of the various plotlines with a steady hand. Two of her staging moments stand out, from an act opening where the crowd at a party is silhouetted against the light of a blue backdrop as if they are mere shadows that will soon be gone, to the final moment of Firs alone in the dark house, curled up on a chaise longue like an abandoned child.

This is a respectful and enjoyable production of Chekhov’s classic. One should appreciate it while it’s here, because, like the lovely cherry orchard, it will soon be gone.

Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.; through September 21.

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