Comedy and tragedy are expertly combined in the University of La Verne’s student performance of Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece “The Cherry Orchard.”
The play is set in a beautiful 2,500 acre estate in Russia in 1903. In the uncertain times after the famine and during the Russian Revolution, new technologies are arising and a constant struggle wages between refusing or accepting new developments.
The story begins with the return of Lyubov Andreyvna (Alma Prica) along with her teen daughter Anya (Rhiannon Cuddy) and Anya’s uncle, Gayev (James Darrah).
Lyubov Andreyvna left the estate five years earlier to escape the memories of her young son’s death. Varya (Samantha Chung) was left in charge of Andreyvna’s cherry orchard with the help of Lopakhin (Chris Smith), Varya’s speculated fiancé and a businessman, whose father was once a serf in the Lyubov Andreyvna estate.
Upon her return, Andreyvna finds that her careless way of life has led them to be so far in debt that the cherry orchard she loves so much must be sold.
Under the direction of Steven Kent, the play took a comedic tone, which is often neglected in other productions of Chekhov’s typically melancholy work including “The Seagull,” “Three Sisters” and “The Bear.”
In this case, the comedic nature of each character was emphasized to create a lighter mood throughout the play.
“He [Chekhov] did not set out to make a comedy or a drama, he set out to write a play imitating life,” said Tony LaScala, theater major. “In real life there are tragic and comedic moments.”
Almost every character has a comedic moment.
An example of this humor comes from the sound of Yepikhodov’s squeaky boots as he walks around the stage. Uncle Gayev constantly makes reference to the game of pool, and his incredible consumption of gum drops throughout the play add to the humor. He is characterized by his elaborate speeches about unimportant things such as a bookcase.
Another character, Charlotta (Brianna Roth), is continuously adding humor to the play with her inopportune dog and magic tricks.
“It was a nice blend of comedy, “ said Matthew Hill, a creative writing major. “The characters are very well defined.”
Along with the tone, Kent changed the level of clutter that is usually experienced in Chekhov plays.
Chekhov plays are often filled with extra tables, chairs and frames, which are not really necessary, Kent said.
Clutter was completely eliminated from this production in order to have the audience focus on the relationship between the characters, and not on all the extra objects on the set.
There were absolutely no unnecessary items on the set, everything seen was used, Kent said.
Kent also engaged the audience by forcing them to use their imagination in order to be able to visualize the cherry orchard, the ball room and the pool table all of which did not actually appear on stage.
Sound effects and the way the actors looked out into the distance could make the beautiful cherry orchard appear in the audience’s imagination.
Kent did not neglect a single detail, including the small but highly significant sound effects.
The sound of the breaking string, for example, at the end of the second act and at the end of the play, symbolizing transition and change.
“The Cherry Orchard” is not just a play about 20th century Russia, it is a play about the world today.
It is incredibly relevant in regards to what is happening now, Kent said.
The problems that are part of the play are still happening today.
Modern society is represented in the play with characters, such as Lopakhin, who represents the unscrupulous business man, Trofimov (Eli Hernandez), an eternal student and the intellectual idealist, and Firs (Anthony Guerrero), who refuses change under all cost.
ULV’s production of “The Cherry Orchard” balanced the serious issues facing society while maintaining humor that happens in everyone’s lives.
“You have to realize that life is both tragic and funny,” said Darrah, a senior theater art major.
The play offered a great learning experience for the actors as well as for the audience.
“I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much,” said Cuddy, a junior theater art major. “I can’t put words to it.”
For the actors it was a learning experience to be able to work with the esteemed actress Alma Prica who has worked with the Croatian National Theater for 15 years. This is Prica’s first American role.
Her acception of this important role gave students at ULV the opportunity to learn and grow with Prica’s help and knowledge of theater acting.
“I couldn’t be happier with the play,” said Darrah. “It was extremely rewarding to be on stage with Alma.”
The performers had a sense of accomplishment when the play was complete.
“It was a good affirmation of our work because the audience reacted as we were expecting,” said Guerrero, a senior theater arts major.
“It is fun to have an audience,” said Roth, a senior theater arts major. “It is really nice to see the result of so much work.”
The play opened on Tuesday and will show today at 7:30 p.m. with performances tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2 p.m.
Laura Bucio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.