North Coast REP Brings One of Chekhov's Best and it is Not Uncle Vanya

The Cherry Orchard is a special pie with various slices of reality

Front Richard Baird, Katie MacNichol, Bruce Turk. Back L-R Ted Barton, Sofia Jean Gomez, Amanda Evans, Riley Osburn & Katy Tang
 - photo by Ken Jacques

The Cherry Orchard
was the last play written by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov in 1903. North Coast Repertory Theatre is presenting the classic with a version by American playwright Jean-Claude Itallie. Fun fact, the premiere of this play in the early 1900s was directed by Stanislavski! Oh, to have been a fly on that theatre wall...

It is said that 'Orchard is one of Chekhov's best along with Uncle Vanya. I have yet to understand the fascination with Vanya since the production I saw a couple of years before the pandemic left me exactly the same. Anyhow, with no expectations for this Chekhov in turn, it turned out to be a tragic joy.

Richard Baird - photo by Ken Jacques

Marty Burnett's set design is like a magic chest that unfolds to reveal different scenes. The first is the living room and former nursery of the famous estate known and loved for a big cherry orchard. The home of Russian aristocrat Lyubov Ranevskaya (Katie MacNichol) who has returned from a seven-year stay in Paris for the estate's auction. As an unconscious spender, Lyubov has no money left and needs what will come from the auction. The second is an outside view with trees and the third is a dance/party hall with the set folding and unfolding like a Rubik's cube. Matthew Novotny's lighting design colors each unfolding scene with beautiful shades of purple, orange, and pink evoking the season and time.

Lyubov is surrounded by family members and add-ons that do not really amount to much, her brother Leonid Gayev (Bruce Turk), daughter Anya (Riley Osburn), and her teacher Trofimov (Michael Raver). Varya (Amanda Evans) is an adopted daughter that takes care of the estate and lives with anxiety due to the constant spending and also being constantly teased by Yermolay Lopakhin (Richard Baird) regarding marriage. She wants to marry him but Yermolay is purposefully aloof and cocky. He has come a long way as his father was a serf for Lyubov's family. Being in charge of the property's auction and purchasing it at the end. Pishchik (Ted Barton) is a friend/neighbor with no money who asks everybody for it, Yasha (Michael Louis Cusimano) is a travel companion/servant for Ranevsky that is using Dunyasha (Katy Tang) for sex while Yepikhodov (Jackson Goldberg) swoons over her and has proposed, confessing his undying love. 

Firs (James Sutorius) is an elderly butler that takes care of the household warmheartedly as he is able. He has dementia and mumbles all-day also being loyal to Leonid Gayev almost nanny-like. 

The play has various life analogies pertaining to the time, aristocracy, and the lack of care for the real world and its troubles. Firs is truly one of the axes in this story and James Sutorious does a beautiful job. He is endearing, and funny while doing the mumbles, walking around the house. Yermolay Lopakhin is the other axe representing what it looks like to come off of the other side. He is constantly advising the family on how to handle the property to which they never listen but greatly lament at the end. Richard Baird is great in whatever he does with poise, presence, and a deep perfectly articulated voice. Sofia Jean Gomez as Charlotta Ivanovna is like the entertainment, free time in the piece performing magic tricks and jokes. She also represents an aloofness to freedom and being carefree.

James Sutorius - photo by Ken Jacques
The story marks a before and after in Russia that is so well written it continues to be universal and can be seen in current times. The homeless population in California for example.

Elisa Benzoni's beautiful costume design with the long dresses for the women, and the pristine suits for the men illustrate the time well. The soundtrack for the scenes Evan Eason chose as part of the sound design was splendid. Capturing each moment and giving it an added feel as well as even prompting the "view" of the orchard tree.

The cast works well as an ensemble delivering what seems to be a fluffy comedic piece when in reality, what is happening is not that fun or glamorous. How hard real-life punches hit and how sometimes it is better to pretend and just brush it to the side ignoring it is there and maybe it will go away...It is wonderful that San Diego gets the opportunity to see a piece that is not produced that often and is too considered one of Chekhov's best. 

The Cherry Orchard is currently playing at the Solana Beach venue until April 2.

For performance times and ticket prices, please click HERE

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