Play can’t connect with Chekhov

By Stephanie Chan

The University of Calgary Drama Department struggles to explore the depth of human relationships in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

After five years in Paris, Madame Ranevskaya returns to Russia to save her cherry orchard, a source of family pride. She has accumulated many debts, and neither her nor her brother, Gaev, can afford to pay off the mortgage. Unfortunately, the property is sold to Lopahin, a wealthy merchant, who destroys the family’s symbol of prosperity and stability. Set on the eve of the Russian revolution, Chekhov examines struggles between social classes.

Overall, the casting of the play is well done. In particular, the characters of Trofimov, a rebellious student, and Yepihodov, Madame’s scatterbrained clerk, are impressive. Played by Nathan Pronyshyn and Matt Woodward respectively, they are the most engaging out of the cast of 14. Clearly, they understand their characters and the passions that drive them to do what they do. Unfortunately, there are many occasions where the relationships between the characters are unclear. It is also mystifying why the characters kept picking on Yepihodov or why Varya, one of Madame’s daughters, is always upset.

The director, Brian Smith, seems to have trouble placing his focus within The Cherry Orchard’s complex web of themes. The outcome of Smith’s direction causes more confusion than clarification. If the central idea is the conflict between social classes, then why does Yasha, a servant, dress so lavishly? Why does the merchant seem to get along with the family when they want to keep it away from any buyers? Why is the elderly servant allowed to capture a great deal of attention? There doesn’t seem to be a central idea that the audience can take from the performance. Perhaps Smith portrays too many themes simultaneously, creating confusion.

Awkward moments in the play include the throwing of a set keys to the ground by Varya after the sale of the cherry orchard. No one reacts to this until quite a few minutes later. And after the sale, Varya still wants to marry Lopahin. When he doesn’t propose to her, she falls to the ground weeping with no explaination. The play also contains annoying and repetitive movements on stage. Actors turn, spin, sit, stand and walk around for no apparent reason.

However, the biggest distraction does not even occur within the scenes. The set changes between acts are so drawn out that the flow of the play and focus of the audience is completely broken. It is hard to regain focus on the story after examining dark figures moving furniture for so long.

The play also never shows that it understands its purpose while certain characters are distracting and pointless. With a clearer focus and more thought out relationships, The Cherry Orchard could have made an impression instead of losing the heart of the play: human connections.

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