Can one get too much Chekhov? Some would argue yes, but for me seeing his beautiful writing performed is never tiresome. This month I have gotten to see two of his masterpieces performed. While The Seagull69, deals with the pangs of unrequited love and rejection, The Cherry Orchard tackles the struggles between the old and the new. Nicu Spoon interprets this play well and makes the struggle more personal. Can differently-abled artists (the “new”) enter the traditional norm of non-handicapped casting? (the “old”). The production is done so flawlessly that this struggle becomes dissolved by the end of the play.
In a nutshell, The Cherry Orchard, follows Lyubov’s family estate which is going to be sold. Lyuvov spends money recklessly, thus creating a huge debt. If she does not agree to chop down the cherry orchard and sub-lease the property, she will lose all of her estate. Her inability to part with her family’s land, creates a lot of havoc on everyone. Within this structure, there are some love interests and new ideas flow. The pangs of losing one’s home and the memories that go with it, permeate the entire play. Thus, making the inevitable sale of the orchard hard for all of us who watch.
The cast is well-equipped to tell the story. Wynne Anders is a tour-de-force as Lyubov. She never disappoints. I saw Anders 11 years ago for the first time and she has yet to give a bad performance. Complimenting her is much like complimenting Meryl Streep. Words don’t do her justice and it gets repetitive trying to find new ways to describe her enormous talent and gracious spirit. I could watch her repeat the alphabet and I’d be happy. That is not to say that the other actors go unnoticed. Anthony Lopez is terrific as Yermolai, the disgruntled son of a serf who worked under Lyubov’s father. Lopez captures the inner-angst of Yermolai well; his love for Lyubov and his simultaneous disdain for her are always in opposition and we are never sure what way he is going to go. His disability strengthens his drive to overthrow Lyubov and her family. We can walk a mile in his shoes and are glad to do it. Some of Checkhov’s characters are dangerously intellectual and, if executed poorly, hard to remain engaged in. Luckily, Michael Abourizk avoids this unending trap of verboseness by making the scholar, Petya, quirky and fun. Instead of tedious, Abourizk breathes life into Petya and makes sense of his character. I could say something about every actor, but I must mention Elizabeth Bell who plays the oldest character, Firs. Bell steals every scene she’s in never breaks character. Her comic timing is great. Bell is fantastic and fun to watch.
The biggest problem with Chekhov is that its hard to confine him to any one genre. Yes, The Cherry Orchard is listed as a comedy. And while there are many funny parts to this play, there is a serious undertone of the pains of letting go of the past. It would be easy to go in one direction or another, but this production gets the balance just right. Usually, classics are hard to define because of their complex structure and varying elements. Frankly, many great works combine elements from many different genres and cross-over between them. Scholars have long debated how to classify some of our greatest works. I am much less interested in labeling a play, than I am to experience it being done well. When this happens, like it does here, theater becomes transcendental. Like a perfect bite of food, the flavors, textures, and ingredients must all work together in harmony. In Nicu Spoon’s production the ratio between all these elements is perfectly struck and felt for the whole show.
The Cherry Orchard ran for 7 performances from Feb 5-10, 2014. For more information visitwww.spoontheater.org