Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Cherry Orchard By Anton Chekov

By Joe Straw

A cherry orchard has to be nurtured. Their branches longing for attention stretch up to the clear blue sky as though it were reaching for sustenance. No matter the course of human endeavor, each year the petals explode like linen strewn across an unmade bed opened and begging for bees to come inside and dance.

The soft white petals with their yellow tipped pistils implore us to observe the coming spring. A radiant brilliant white light of many soft suns that lightens the spirit and heightens our joys from fragrances and to let us know that change is imminent.

And so we have Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard playing at the beautiful Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon under the able direction of Ellen Geer. This production was freely adapted by Heidi Helen Davis and Ellen Geer and set on an old plantation in 1970 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Cherry Orchard is a timeless comedy that was just as amazing in 1904 as it is today and with another interpretation, the decision placing the action in 1970, of inviting another element invites the audience to discourse. And what better way to leave the theatre.

Like the many types of cherries there are in the world this cast is multi-racial and as ethnically diverse as any Cherry Orchard you will see. It is set in a turbulent time of American history where racial strife and assassinations were commonplace. Where being part of the problem meant you weren’t trying to find the solution.

And so, after running away for five years to avoid her problems, the owner of the unattended Cherry Orchard returns home to save her estate which is about to go on the auction block unless something is done to save it. And rather than parcel the land out they do nothing and subsequently the Cherry Orchard is destroyed.

Ellen Geer as Lillian Randolph Cunningham floats gracefully across the stage like a falling cherry petal seeking its final resting place. She is delightful as the owner of the estate. Willow Geer is stunning as Anna Cunningham. Emma Fassler as Dolores Hughes, the maid, gives an outstanding performance, as does William Dennis Hunt as Gates Randolph. Steve Matt as the maniacal Lawrence Poole shouts out “And now the Cherry Orchard is mine! Mine!” Marc Ewing as the doctoral student gives an understated performance so full of ideas and so lacking in love. Jerry Hoffman is the borrowing neighbor who in the end pays his debts. Matt Van Winkle is the French valet part of the entourage with no clear objective.

Tyler Rhoades is a bumbling accountant; as though he were a bee bouncing off the furniture around the room unable to find his way to the Cherry Orchard. Tippi Thomas is the adopted sister Velina Cunningham. J.R. Starr is funny as Fred Jasper an old tree but beautiful in spirit and Melora Marshall as the German governess Carlotta Schmidt does a nice turn in the second act.

The rest of the cast includes Carolyn Wright, Donna Johnson, Savannah Southern Smith and Kirsti Jacobson.

As much as the performers talk about the Cherry Orchard there is not one hint, one piece of imagery, or one white petal of the Cherry Orchard in sight. The destruction of something so beautiful that is non-existent in on or around the stage leaves the reviewers heart yearning for more.

How could anyone destroy something as lovely as a cherry tree? Soft white petals, filled with life, an unrepentant perfume, the leaf tip nectary glands tickling fingers as the succulent morsels of fruit are pulled and placed between the open spaces of the lips and think of younger days when things weren’t so complicated.
Live and love life around The Cherry Orchard.

Performances: June 27 through September 26. Please go to their website or call 310-455-3723 because show times varies.

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