EVIDENCE ROOM PRESENTS
Liubov Ranyevskaya, the estate’s owner - Maria O’Brien
Yermolai Lopakhin, a businessman - Don Oscar Smith
Carlotta, the governess - Lauren Campedelli
Dunyasha, the maid - Ryan Templeton
A stranger - Colleen Kane
Director - Bart DeLorenzo
Assistant Director - Teddy Sanders
Stage Manager - Tracey McAvoy
Graphic Design - Colleen Wainwright
May 27 - July 2, 2006
Los Angeles Times
Anton Chekhov outspokenly intended his final play, The Cherry Orchard, a portrait of impecunious Russian aristocrats overwhelmed by social change and their own passivity, as a broad comedy. That assertion has challenged generations of subsequent interpreters, many of whom have found Chekhov’s intended comic rhythms frustratingly elusive.
But anyone who has ever doubted the essential hilarity of the piece will become a believer after seeing director Bart DeLorenzo’s alternately side-splitting and heartbreaking production at the Evidence Room. An uproarious elegy, DeLorenzo’s staging is a slice of life served with a side of farce, a messily propulsive blend of the traditional and the revisionist that charms us by its very audacity.
Beautifully lighted by Adam H. Greene and Christopher Kuhl, the ideally cast actors are authoritative. In an eccentric turn, Maria O’Brien plays Liubov Ranyevskaya, the estate’s profligate owner, as a sort of pill-popping hedonist who floats above impending crisis in a drug-fueled haze.
As her equally impractical brother, Tom Fitzpatrick is perfectly fussy and effete, a helpless child-man made pitiful by privilege.
And as Lopakhin, the peasant-turned-millionaire who eventually buys the estate, Don Oscar Smith is a buttoned-down conqueror whose initial deference to his former masters gives way to gleeful supremacy.
Especially charming is Ken Roht’s interstitial choreography – herky-jerky apache dances featuring family servant Dunyasha (Ryan Templeton) and her slimy seducer, Yasha (Will Watkins), that perfectly complement DeLorenzo’s serio-antic tone.
Sadly, this is the Evidence Room’s last production in the company’s marvelous Beverly Boulevard space – and it is an almost eerily appropriate swan song.
– F. Kathleen Foley
Although this production was planned before the ax fell on The Evidence Room, it’s an appropriate theme for the farewell event. Director Bart DeLorenzo has found the soul of what playwright Anton Chekhov often referred to as a comedy. Stanislavsky claimed Chekhov didn’t see the sorrow in it but its mixture of tears and laughter is emblematic of life, both as Chekhov saw it, and as it is.
Honoring Chekhov’s desire to write a vaudeville comedy, DeLorenzo sets the stage, literally, with the maid Dunyasha who whips a dust cover off a mound of furniture and puts each piece in place using Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie mannerisms. Dunyasha sets every Act this way, advancing the course of her doomed romance with Yasha, the valet, through their choreographed passionate duels. This underscores the Downstairs of the servants’ life in this Upstairs/Downstairs presentation. Ancient Firs, the butler, and vulnerable stammering young Semyon, the accountant, vividly round out the household staff.
Although DeLorenzo brings the cast and their "instant of life" to blazing reality, their exuberance is layered with tears. This is particularly demonstrated in the unforgettable performance of Maria O’Brien as Liubov Ranyevskaya, the estate’s owner, who has returned with her brother Gayev and daughter Anya to save or lose the family property, including its famous cherry orchard.
In elegant contemporary clothes, Liubov, straight from Paris, revisits sorrow at the place where her seven-year-old son drowned. Although she is destitute, she continues to distribute lavish tips, acting as was always expected of her and as she expects of herself. Besotted with a man who cheats her of money and cheats on her with other women, she nevertheless answers his call to come back to Paris and take care of him, fortified with the money her aunt lent them to pay off the mortgage. It wasn’t enough and the estate was sold to Lopakhin, a peasant’s son turned successful merchant, who will cut down the cherry orchard and install villas budgeted for working men. He loves the family and, in Chekhov’s hands, is not a villain but the inevitable face of change.
O’Brien is warm, playful and feckless. Sometimes she seems dazed and seems to be listening. Perhaps it is her listening that evokes the mysterious sound of a harp string breaking which occurs throughout the play. After it’s heard the first time, a beggar woman stumbles on stage, as if on signal or an image of the family’s present and future. Liubov gives her too much money and she stumbles off again.
Anya seems to look forward to her new life, as does the perennial student, 28-year-old Trofimov, though his sardonic cynicism belies his optimism. Pischchik, a neighboring landowner and clown, is saved by the discovery of clay on his land, a sly example by the playwright of the unpredictability of life. Liubov’s brother Gayev will work in a bank, though that seems unlikely to succeed. Varya, Liubov’s adopted daughter and housekeeper, has always been an enigmatic figure, bleaker than Sonia in Uncle Vanya, less romantic than Masha in The Seagull. There’s been so much talk of her marrying Lopakhin that Liubov prods him to agree to propose. Varya’s tight-lipped acceptance of reality and Liubov’s laughing evasion of it echo the playwright’s ironic theme that life’s major events are not what is imposed on us but what we impose on it.
The excellent cast includes many Evidence Room regulars and some newcomers who join the others in melding into a cohesive group. As far as production values go, the group goes down with all flags flying. Lap Chi Chu has designed magnificent joyful clumps of cherry blossoms around the stage, Barbara Lempel’s contemporary costumes are glamorous and evocative, and choreographer Ken Roht’s dances show us the heart of the family DeLorenzo sometimes stages action at the back of the huge performing space while principal scenes go on in front.
What a shame to let this wonderful facility be anything other than a theatre! If it must, it leaves us with a superb production and a glorious image of Chekhov’s characters dancing on the brink of the world.
– Laura Hitchcock