The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov is his final play, and one of his most renowned. It focuses on the aristocrat Ranevskaya (Corina Akeson) whose estate (which includes a large and much-loved cherry orchard) is about to be sold to pay her debts. Lopakhin (John Prowse), a middle-class businessman who made his way up the social ladder, has suggested many ways out but Ranevskaya and her brother Gaev (Douglas Abel) refuse. His suggestions are too crass, they say, too middle class. And so, the Cherry Orchard will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. When Lopakhin confronts her about the upcoming auction she says nonchalantly: “Well, what are we supposed to do about it?”
Smoking Gun Collective’s production manages to get the plot across clearly enough, but I was confused about which characters were which for almost the entire first act. The costumes, which would usually help distinguish status, only made it more confusing. And I don’t know what was wrong with peoples’ natural hair but it couldn’t have been worse than the wigs that covered them.
Also, the wide array of accents was confusing and unnecessary.
There are 13 major characters, but not one of them really won me over. Ranevskaya was cold and uncaring when it came to the main object of her affection, the orchard. Anya (Lesli Brownlee) and Varya (Christine Iannetta) lacked direction and objective. The ones who were the most entertaining to watch (Jack Riggs as Firs, and Sean Antony as Yepihodov among them) simply were not central enough characters to be able to make the audience care.
There was an odd mix of melodrama, lack of emotion, and slapstick comedy. The characters were all so different, and it seemed director William B. Davis hadn’t decided what approach to take.
It may be that this production simply tried to do too much. So much is required when putting on a well-known classic play, but to me, they missed the central point. The program says that this script blended four different translations of the original play, and that may have been part of the problem.
The play is about the orchard. We have to care about the orchard. If we don’t, there is no fear of loss. No stakes. Leaving the theatre, the audience should feel for all the characters: what they have gained and lost, their choices and the impacts they’ll have. The sound of each axe chopping should make us want to cry.
The set was lovely, the actors held their own, but overall the play lacked heart.
The Cherry Orchard by Smoking Gun Collective runs until May 19th at the Jericho Arts Centre. Tickets here.
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