Smoking Gun Collective
The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

Dates and Venue April 27 – May 19, 2018, 8pm Wed.-Sat. Matinées: Saturday & Sundays at 2pm | Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St., Vancouver

Director William B. Davis Set Design Tracy Lynn Chernaske Costume Design Julie White Lighting Design Marco Lamera Sound Design Sean Anthony Stage Manager Samantha Pawliuk

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

It is always difficult to see a play written shortly before a revolution and not regard it as prescient commentary, especially when a playwright is as finely attuned to his times as Chekhov was. Indeed many of his friends and acquaintances marched and protested against the Tsar. But his other topic was the effect of the emancipation of the serfs. It is not entirely the fault of the feckless landowners that the cherry orchard is now unproductive. The family’s success in producing and selling preserves depended entirely on a supply of cheap labour which no longer exists. The Cherry Orchard’s genius lies in Chekhov’s refusal to take sides and his acute and affectionate observation of all sorts of people.

The Cherry Orchard opens on a wide, white set slashed with leafless cherry boughs which serves successively as nursery, a meadow by the orchard, a ballroom and the nursery again. A minimalist set can illuminate a play in the most subtle way but unfortunately this one does not. Despite some re-arrangement of chairs and a book-case, the set remains static while the seasons pass from chilly spring through high summer to autumn and the emotional currents of the characters move from warm remembrances of the past to cold realities.

Six years before the play opens, Lyubov Ranevskaya (Corina Akeson) ran away to Paris after the accidental drowning of her son following closely after her husband’s death. There she fell in love with a man who fleeced her of her money and then left her. At home she had left her adopted daughter Varya (Christine Iannetta) as estate manager, her teen-aged daughter Anya (Lesli Brownlee) and her brother Leonid (Douglas Abel). Leonid is middle-aged and does no work His old servants and friends are dying or leaving, he makes impromptu orations (usually quickly squashed by his family) and plays imaginary games of billiards. Anya has travelled to Paris with her governess (Bronwen Smith) to fetch her mother home. The family faces a crisis: the estate cannot pay the bills and their famous and beloved cherry orchard must be sold.

There is another solution to the crisis. Their agent in this business, local entrepreneur Lopakhin (John Prowse), suggests they cut down the orchard and develop the land into holiday homes for the newly-rising middle-class. Lyubov and Leonid cannot think of it. Their imagination stops at the associations the orchard has for them but they have no other answers. Lopakhin himself can see the beauty of the trees. His association with the estate is as long as the Gaev family’s, but his view is that of the son of a serf, a peasant. Pragmatic and shrewd, he has become rich while they grew poor. Nevertheless it is quite a shock when eventually it is he who is the top bidder at the auction and the new owner.

Also caught in the fate of the orchard is the staff. There is Yepikhodov (Sean Anthony), an accident-prone clerk in the estate office who is courting Dunyasha the parlour-maid (Martha Ansfield-Scrase), Yasha (Matt Loop), the untrustworthy footman who can’t wait to get back to Paris and flirts boredly with Dunyasha, Charlotta the governess and Petya Trofimov (Chris Walters), the little boy’s tutor. Petya is a perpetual student full of heart-felt, half-baked ideas, keen to build a better future, possibly in partnership with Anya. (They are, he says, “above love”.)

All the cast do their best. Christine Iannetta is a particularly dour Varya, encased in black and, somewhat over-powered by her wig. Bronwen Smith’s Charlotta is a whiz with the magic tricks, though it is difficult to see her as any kind of a governess. Matt Loop preens as Yasha, Tim Bissett plays Simeneonov-Pishchik, the neighbour, Douglas Abel is a fey Leonid. Firs (Jack Rigg) is clearly kept alive only by duty. John Prowse’s Lopakhin is unfailingly solid, painting an eccentric and boorish man, self-aware and pushy in some respects and not without sensitivity. His parting scene with Petya as they come to an understanding of each other was particularly good.

It is Corina Akeson and Chris Walters who shine. Akeson gives a beautifully shaded, completely engaged performance. Her Ranevskaya is elegant warm, generous, charming, the sort of woman who lights up a room and at the same time is almost criminally feckless, oblivious to the effects of her actions or lack of action on others. Walters imbues the callow Petya with a genuineness that is touching. Between the two of them, they make this production worth watching.

A final note: the program lists the three of the characters by only their family name, Ranevskaya, Gaev, Trofimov but they are universally referred to in the play as Lyubov, Leonid and Petya. This can be confusing for those who don’t know the play.

© 2018 Elizabeth Paterson