By Allison McCausland
A&E and Online Editor
Nothing quite fits in with the cold winter months like a turn of the century Russian aristocratic estate. This image is the very setting for Act 1’s winter drama, The Cherry Orchard.
Anton Chekov’s 1904 play details the story of the Gayev family who face heavy debts and the prospect of having to sell their estate to pay them off, including their famed cherry orchard. Through the turmoil, the family’s son, Lopakhin, offers a solution to save their wealthy livelihood by only selling part of the property to be developed and rid themselves of their financial burdens. However, the plan involves destroying the family orchard itself, leading to conflict and a summer full of remembrance as the Gayevs wish to remain blissfully unaware of their future.
“We are putting on the most recent adaption of this piece so, hopefully, our American audience will be able to relate more to the story and characters in the world of the play,” said sophomore Gabe Moses, who will play the role of Lopakhin. The production that Moses referred to is the 2016 translation by Stephen Karam, allowing modern theatergoers to understand the context that the play addresses.
Nevertheless, many of the cast and crew have expressed their excitement for working in a Chekov creation.
“He is known for writing intensely honest and deep characters,” said junior Caitlin Hughes, who will play the role of Varya, the family’s adoptive daughter and manager of the Gayev estate. “It’s been a dream of mine to explore the world of his characters since I was first introduced to his work in high school.”
Chekov’s works are world-renowned and have inspired many actors to challenge themselves through the influential works and memorable characters he created during his lifetime. He has often been cited as an influencer in many of the twentieth century’s greatest playwrights, including Tennessee Williams. It seems that the influence he has had on actors and artists continues to this day.
“Chekhov has this wonderful way of juxtaposing humor against life’s saddest and most awkward moments,” said junior Arrianna Daniels, who plays Lyubov, the owner of the Gayev estate and the titular cherry orchard. “His plot lines are often simple, but his dialogue breaks your heart one moment and has you laughing beyond compare in the next.”
The mix of laughter and drama is one that the production is famously known for since Chekov himself wrote the piece with the intention of it being a comedy. However, the initial productions and interpretations by various directors opted for the dramatic route. It takes a skilled director to strike a balance between the comedy and tragedy in The Cherry Orchard’s writing, but director Anne Lewis has pushed her actors in the right direction to make their performance poignant.
“There is a lot of character work developing with the guidance of Anne Lewis and witnessing those changes is truly remarkable,” said junior assistant stage manager Meaghan McKiernan.
“She has given me the freedom to explore and take my own liberties with the character, and at the same time, providing me with some useful tools to develop all of his traits,” said Moses in regard to Lewis’ directing methods.
Besides the character connections that each individual actor has to make with the character they are playing, the entire cast and crew collaborated to make the production design and overall ambience as authentically Russian as possible.
“Between getting the words and language down, learning Russian history and customs, learning how to waltz, and polishing a more naturalistic acting style,” said junior Abby Manwiller, who plays Anya, Lyubov’s daughter, “working on this production has taught me way more than I ever thought I could learn.”
The production also gave many of the actors’ suitable experience in the immersion process of bringing a story to life. Observance of the multiple moving parts the crew takes in crafting a convincing setting is sure to stay with both the cast and crew in future shows.
“Everyone involved in this production, from the director and assistant director, the choreographer, stage management, designers, fellow cast members, and anyone working to create sets, costumes, lights, or sound, has impacted my learning process and taught me things that I will carry into every show I do in the future,” said Manwiller.
“This production has quite a bit of moving parts from a technical aspect and I think my experience in this show and the communication with the amazing stage management team will carry over into any other shows that I am a part of,” McKiernan said.
With the production team abuzz with anticipation of the hard work they have placed in their Chekovian interpretation, The Cherry Orchard is a must see for the remaining Act 1 season.
The Cherry Orchard runs from Feb. 20 to March 3. Tickets can be purchased at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts box office during open hours or online at https://www.desales.edu/news-events/act-1-productions.