United Players of Vancouver

Cherry Orchard

by Anton Chekhov

Jericho Arts Centre until December 5th

by Ruth Baldwin and Jane Penistan

Theatregoers who have learned to expect a high standard of production from the United Players won't be disappointed by The Cherry Orchard. Christopher Weddell's direction, Alex Strachan's skillful lighting and projections, and some fine performances from cast members have combined to produce an excellent interpretation of Chekhov's masterpiece.

Making a virtue out of necessity, Lisa Leung has created a minimalist set with just the right props to suggest the decayed grandeur of Russian aristocracy as the revolution approaches. A crenellated dolls' house in the disused nursery, for example, emphasizes the claustrophobic atmosphere of increasing isolation and at the same time poignantly underscores the aura of nostalgia that permeates the play. Lisa Leung's clever choice of sepia-toned fabrics for the female costumes adds further to the sense of turn of the century Russia. A child's ball rolling across the stage at curtain up, and again at curtain fall, neatly bookends the sense of inevitable change. The Zen-bare set also allows the focus to remain firmly fixed upon character and relationships.

While the cast is generally strong, special mention must be made of John Burnside's performance as the aging footman, Firs, and Trevor Devall's Yermoley Lopakhim. John Burnside almost personifies the old era when the aristocracy took care of their serfs, and the serfs faithfully served their masters, while, Trevor Devall invests the character of Yermoley with just the right amount of vulgarity and a suggestion of the awe which the new class of Russian business man might have felt for the class which had so recently held so much power. The contrast between characters -- between Lyubov, who is marooned in the past, and her devoted but adaptable daughter, and between the old devoted footman and the new oily one, so quick to exploit his erstwhile masters -- is very skillfully played.

Although the pace is a little slow at the beginning, there are no weak performances in this production. By the ballroom scene, the pace has picked up, however, and this "last gasp," as it were, of the aristocracy is very well done. Lyubov's Paris is for a brief moment recreated within the crumbling estate of the Ranyevskaya family. Charlotta, the trickster governess, is ingeniously played by Darlene Arsenault. Chameleonlike, she shows herself capable of survival in this uncertain world by being ready, always, to entertain and by refusing to succumb to the seduction of sentimentality. Lenya, Lyuba's voluble and ineffectual brother is portrayed convincingly and with sensitivity by Richard Strachan. David Purvis plays Boris with amusing affability and Hugh Grantish charm.

There were few glitches in this first night performance and the cast seems set for a very smooth run. The United Players have trusted the text, and it pays off. The Cherry Orchard is not an easy play to perform, but the courage of the company in their choice has been amply rewarded.