By Jennifer Lunz and Robert Lunz
Playwright Anton Chekov’s famous and last play written before his death, The Cherry Orchard, is now playing at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre April 1-May 7 (170 N Dearborn Street Chicago, IL 60601). Just after the turn of the 20th century, an aristocratic Russian family is on the verge of bankruptcy, while their country stands on the brink of revolution.
Francis Guinan, Kate Fry and Christopher Donahue in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard
A family verges on bankruptcy while their country stands on the brink of revolution. The family, friends and house servants, all experience endings, beginnings, bittersweet departures and the comedies of life. Madame Ranevskaya has returned to her heavily-mortgaged estate on the eve of its auction, and the aristocratic widow has found that the fate of much more than her beloved orchard hangs in the balance. Chekhov’s masterpiece is an exploration of loss, love, and how to live in a society that’s changing fast. Following his critically-acclaimed productions of Three Sisters, The Seagull and Uncle Vanya, director Robert Falls takes on the last of Chekhov’s four major plays.
Kareem Bandealy and Kate Fry in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard
Robert Falls is leaving the theater directing business with a final, triumphant bang. His stage version of The Cherry Orchard is a theatrical masterpiece from the acting to the costumes to the set design. The play’s story is an equal-opportunity satire of all of Russia’s social classes and change at the time of the play’s debut from 1904. Chekov lampoons the old aristocracy, as well as the new middle class, and both the old and the new peasant classes. The play is a well balanced mixture of comedy, satire and bittersweet tragedy.
Stephen Cefalu Jr. and Raven Whitley in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard
The comedic lampooning is accomplished by presenting the characters as very one-dimensional and self-absorbed, completely unaware of the happiness and woes of the individuals around them. Each social class exhibits its own less-than-admirable characteristics, such as the upper class’ stupidity, irrelevance, and the inability to live anywhere but in the past (keeping the estate and the cherry orchard intact). For this type of satire to work, the play’s characters must not have much, if any, self-awareness. However, the characters cannot be self-reflective and cannot change who they are. They must have a static set of characteristics to be recognized by, and laughed at, by the audience. Chekov has done all of this successfully.
Matt DeCaro, Kate Fry and Christopher Donahue in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard
Robert Falls’ own interpretation and intentions of The Cherry Orchard have involved successfully staging the play as buffoonish comedy, along with bittersweet, powerful moments, along with pauses after speeches by the actors, to let the audience grasp and laugh at the jokes and satire, and the over-the-top performances by the actors. The play moves like a three-ring circus, by having the different social classes of actors in constant movement, swirling on and off the stage, making fun of themselves and one another.
Raven Whitley and Kate Fry in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard
Overall, Falls’ The Cherry Orchard was a delightful and moving, emotional journey to witness and experience. The Goodman Theater never fails to disappoint and this version of the famous Anton Chekov play is no exception. The acting is top notch, and the entire cast gives heartfelt meaningful performances. Each main character goes through grief, loss and uncertainty, with their current and future life situations, which are emphasized with comical and satirical pokes at their hardships, while also being displayed with their foolish behavior and attitudes towards life and the people around them.
Matt DeCaro, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Kate Fry, Alejandra Escalante and Kareem Bandealy in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard
Although each actor was exceptional in his or her role, at times it was very difficult to emotionally connect or feel sympathy for the characters and their foolishness and ridiculous antics, personalities and life choices, thus resulting in a rather neutral perspective of the story and its characters. The Cherry Orchard is very entertaining and a comedic joy to watch. I strongly recommend seeing it before it leaves The Goodman!
To purchase tickets for The Cherry Orchard, or to get more information on upcoming Goodman Theater productions, please the theater’s website.
Photos: Courtesy of The Goodman Theatre
Content Advisory: Recommended for ages 14 and up. The Cherry Orchard contains themes of grief and loss.