For the first time in the Bay Area, the Town Hall Theatre Company performed the 1903 edition of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” The script, based on a reconstructed version of Chekhov’s play before its revision in 1904, is the work of translators Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. “The Cherry Orchard” has been hailed as one of the most legendary pieces of Russian drama, with themes of social change, reconciliation after an end to slavery and class struggle, and in Town Hall Theatre’s production, the play stayed true to Chekhov’s original vision while also flaunting its own creative flair.
“The Cherry Orchard,” Chekhov’s last play before his death, follows the story of Lyubóv Ranévskaya (Sarah Ruby), a Russian aristocrat attempting to save her beloved estate from bankruptcy after spending six years in France to recover from the deaths of her husband and son. The plot features Lyubóv’s daughter Ánya (April Deutschle) and Lyubóv’s adopted ward Várya (Heather Kellogg Baumann) as they both come of age. Chekhov also explores themes of class relations through Lopákhin (Ted Bigornia), a self-made businessman, and Firs (Tom Reilly), a former slave who struggles to keep up with the changing times after the end of slavery in Russia in 1861.
The play’s most striking aspect is undoubtedly Liliana Duque Piñeiro’s stage design. The scenic layout of the stage is extremely innovative and visually engaging, with three ornamental frames hanging from the ceiling, one of which can be moved with a rope mechanism. The movable frame allows the stage to be reframed and reoriented between and during each act, expanding the possibilities of the set. The backdrop of the set, meanwhile, features a beautifully painted cherry orchard with cherry trees in full bloom. The wooden cutout of the cherry tree in the center of the stage adds shadow and depth to the orchard, and during ballroom scenes, Piñeiro utilizes antique furniture for an authentic feel.
Lighting designer Delayne Medoff also deserves ample praise for her brilliant lighting choices. Medoff and the production crew match the lighting to the mood of each scene, with lighting at the beginning of the play starting off with a bluish-purple color to reflect the nostalgia of the moment. As the play progresses, the lighting shifts to warmer tones, indicating the change of seasons and dynamics between the characters.
Michael Kelly’s sound design contributes heavily to the play’s atmosphere. Although Kelly keeps the use of sound effects to a minimum to keep the focus on the dialogue, in key moments, he implements the sound of a snapped violin string and other subtle elements. The snapped violin string serves as a motif to represent discord and tension during moments such as when the orchard is sold or when Firs is about to die. In another scene, the strumming of an acoustic guitar emerges a few times to represent the characters’ pleasant strolls through the orchard and to signify Epikhódov’s (Ben Chau-Chiu) guitar playing at the beginning of the scene.
Throughout the play, Maggie Whitaker showcases her amazing talent as a costume designer through Lyubóv’s numerous wardrobe changes. Lyubóv’s extravagant dresses signify her frivolousness and also match the mood of each scene, with darker colors reflecting more somber moments, as seen in Lyubóv’s eggplant purple dress for Act 4. Whitaker also does a splendid job of outfitting the cast for the ballroom scene in Act 3, making even the austere Várya appear bright and cheerful in her rose pink gown.
The cast is also a highlight of the play. Ruby, Deutschle, Bigornia and Gleason play off each other’s energy brilliantly. Bigornia captures his character’s perseverance and tenacity, while Gleason waxes philosophically to the audience, questioning the lifestyle of Russian aristocrats. Deutschle plays Ánya in a way that is delightfully charming and nuanced. Ruby, on the other hand, successfully portrays the flawed yet loveable Lyubóv.
Under Susan Evans’ direction, “The Cherry Orchard” shines as a play that reflects 20th century Russian society while simultaneously proving relevant to the current times. With its radiant cast and amazing crew, “The Cherry Orchard” confirms the continued influence and importance of Chekhov’s work in theater.