Intimate setting adds greatly to ‘Cherry Orchard’
CHESTNUT HILL — Actors Shakespeare Project hasn’t deviated from The Bard’s canon very often in the past decade — three times, to be exact.
But ASP has decided to bring Anton Chekhov into the mix, with its current production of “The Cherry Orchard” now through March 9.
Fortunately, the skills and sensibilities of the troupe are easily transferred from Shakespeare to Chekhov.
The troupe doesn’t fear performing in different spaces, they welcome it. So this season has already seen them move from the Strand Theatre in Dorchester to the Shakespeare-friendly Modern Theatre in downtown Boston, to Founder’s Hall of the Dane Estate, located on the campus of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill.
The elegant surroundings might not have looked out of place in a country estate in Russia 1904, when Chekhov finished writing the piece, and the production is performed in the round, in a large drawing room/sitting room/ballroom complete with a working fireplace and seats located on three sides.
A majestic staircase on one end is a convienent entrance and exit for actors and a venue for off-stage action.
At the heart of “The Cherry Orchard” is Madame Ranyevskaya (Marya Lowry), who family owns the estate and the beloved cherry orchard within it. Ranyevskaya is returning home after a five-year respite in Paris after the deaths of her father and son, with the impending auction of her estate hanging over her head like the Sword of Damocles.
Change is in the air in post-revolutionary Russia — change trumpeted by the student Trofimov (an excellent Danny Bryck) — but whether the aristocratic class can cope with it or is simply unwilling or unable to adapt to it is up in the air.
Ranyevskaya is one character who never appears to be living in the real world, and never appears to be quite aware of what is happening to her. She lives in the past, still grieving the death of her son and husband years ago.
Her behaviors are puzzling What kind of person would give a gold coin to a stranger even while her own servants have nothing to eat?
The intimate surroundings –. the actors and actresses at times are inches away —
make it easy to see how a fine an actor Richard Snee is, here as Gayev, the earnest but ultimately clueless brother of Madame Ranyevskaya, who would love to find a way to save his estate but lacks the smarts or the initiative to do so.
Stephen Barkimer is Lopakhim, the hard-nosed businessman and a rags-to-riches story , buying an estate where he once went barefoot in the winter and where his father and grandfather were surfs. He would like to help the Gayevs with his proposal to build cottages that would generate enough income to save the estate, but they seem uninterested.
He is also in love Ranyevskaya’s adopted daughter Varya (Marianna Bassham) , but is unable to pull the trigger when it comes to making a commitment.
Director Melia Bensussen based this production on her own translation with the cooperation of other company members and it is lighter, less dour, than other productions.
There are some fine performance ups and down the line but perhaps none moreso than Bryck as the student dreamer who warms that change is in the wind; he is love with Anya (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan), who may not be buying what he is selling
At one point he congratulates Lopakhim on buying the estate and his goof financial fortune the but then proceeds to warn him: “Everything you value deeply has no power over me.”
Jake Berger has a nice comic turn as the down-on-his-luck landowner Pishchik, who is constantly trying borrowing from the equally flat-broke Madame Ranevskaya.
Mac Young is Yasha, the pretty-much-worthless manservant who strolls around and spends much of his time playing playing billiards.
Aged servant Fiers (Arthur Waldstein) longs for the days gone by when surfs weren’t free wryly that once the galas at the estate lured barons and lords, and they now attract postmen and station masters.
It is a combination of factors that make this “Cherry Orchard” a sweet experience: the surroundings, the intimacy, a cast with no weak links, and a translation that make the Chekhov work easily understood and appreciated.
The Actor Shakespeare Project production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” Through March 9 in the Founder’s Room of the Dane Estate at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill. , Directed by Melia Bensussen; Scenic designer Christina Todesco’ Lighting designer John Malinowski Costume Designer Nancy Leary. Sound design/composer Archan Gailus. www.actorshakespeareproject.org