EMOTIONS ARE NOT HELD BACK: McEleney, Wilson, Jr., and Kay.
Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard is about change, and so too is this debut production by Trinity Repertory Company’s new artistic director, Curt Columbus. If this remarkable staging is the sort of wizardry we can expect, the new man at the helm will be taking us on quite a thrill ride on our theatrical journey with him. Hang on, Providence — Columbus drives wide-eyed and flat-out!
The result is a riveting production that the town will be talking about for years.
Cherry Orchard is mayhem, a gabble of disconnected voices when presented in unsure hands. I’ve seen excellent companies make rats’ nests of its interweaving strands of unexpressed relationships. The play starts out like a rave, with everyone hopping about and overlapping voices competing to be heard. Lovey Ranevskaya (Phyllis Kay) and her daughter Anya (Emily Young) have returned to their estate after five years in Paris, and the populous household is in happy tumult. By the end of the play, each of the dozen main characters must be clearly placed in a web of circumstance and regard, where the slightest raised eyebrow affects each of these people, and we know instantly how each one feels.
That’s what ensemble acting is all about, and on his first time out with the troupe, Columbus has pulled out each actor’s best work.
This revisiting isn’t just a fresh take on the often-staged classic, it looks like a reincarnation of the play that Chekhov had in mind. (That’s in addition to it being played as a comedy — as the playwright preferred — rather than tragedy.) Russian-specialist Columbus is using his own translation, which leaps the century to bring the characters alive.
Lovey had gone abroad a year after the death of her husband; her little boy drowned on the property, so she fled the reminder (and metaphor) of the river. While away, a lover she took up with and nursed back to health stole her money and abandoned her. She has returned because her family’s precious cherry orchard is about to be auctioned off to pay the mortgage on the estate.
In the first scene, in the playroom, Lovey is served coffee from elegant silver service while sitting in a little child’s chair. How fitting. Her childish irresponsibility is exasperating Lopakin (Joe Wilson Jr.), a wealthy merchant and friend of the family who begs her to have the orchard chopped down and parceled out for summer cottages, a plan that will lose the estate but assure her financial security. Her foolish brother Leonid (Brian McEleney), who annoys everyone by talking too much, pooh-poohs the suggestion, noting that their cherry orchard is in an encyclopedia. Lovey is also dismissive.
Other problems are just as serious for other characters. Older daughter Varya (Crystal Finn), has been taking care of the property. Merchant Lopakin has been half-heartedly courting her, though Chekhov leaves only implicit that this is because he feels he’s beneath her station. Similarly, daughter Anya is being quasi-romanced by perpetual student Trofimov (Stephen Thorne). He’s as ineffectual as the others. He speaks of being “beyond love” and has dedicated himself to the perfectibility of presently treacherous mankind, while not deigning to turn any idea into action.