Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, being presented by North Coast Repertory Theatre through April 2, 2023, is a play about how people handle change. Some can’t accept it, some find ways to laugh at it, and some decide to take advantage of it. Artistic director David Ellenstein’s production illustrates how class differences blinded the wealthy of another era to change that was probably inevitable.
The situation that Chevkov’s final play presents revolves around how an aristocratic family in early 20th Century Russia can pay the mortgage that is due on their estate. Several of those who have gathered realize that failure to pay the debt means that the estate will be put to other uses, and an old and beloved grove of cherry trees will be destroyed in the process.
Chekhov populates his play with characters from various stations in life: aristocrats and servants, as well as some who have risen above their heritage. The aristocrats are: Lyubov Ranevskaya (Katie MacNichol), the mistress of the estate; Anya (Riley Osburn), her daughter; Varya (Amanda Evans), her adopted daughter, who serves as manager of the estate; Leonid Gayev (Bruce Turk), her lay about brother; Pishchik (Ted Barton), her neighbor, whose descent into ennui illustrates the decayed state of the aristocracy; and Trofimov (Michael Raver), a student who is a friend of Anya. Unseen but of influence is Grisha, her son, who tragically drowned. She is reminded of the tragedy by the presence of Trofimov, who was his tutor.
The servants are: Yasha (Michael Louis Cusimano), a manservant who has accompanied Lyubov to Paris and back; Carlotta Ivanovna (Sofia Jean Gomez), Anya’s governess who entertains with magic and ventriloquism; Yepikhodov (Jackson Goldberg), a clumsy clerk; Dunyasha (Katy Tang), a housemaid and the object of Yepikhodov’s affections; and Firs (James Sutorius), an elderly manservant who yearns for the “good old days.”
In essence, the household characters try to ignore the impending loss of the property where they live by laughing, throwing a big party, and hoping for the best.
I wonder to what degree Mr. Ellenstein saw parallels between The Cherry Orchard and the town of Solana Beach, whose coastal areas were initially rife with summer cottages and whose inland areas were developed adjoining the aristocratic estates of Rancho Santa Fe.
The cast is a strong one, though it’s eccentric enough to encounter some difficulty meshing into a coherent ensemble. Audiences will still be likely to find performances that they favor, even Mr. Baird’s, whose character has sometimes been thought to be the “bad guy” of the play. I suspect that Solana Beach audiences will recognize him as a developer, and they probably know their share of developers.
As usual, NCR makes the most of the limited space at their disposal. Marty Burnett’s scenic design prominently features silhouettes of cherry trees and is complimented by Rachel Hengst’s prop design. Matt Novotny’s lighting seems elegant, and Elisa Benzoni’s costume design evokes a period of impending change. The costumes are well compliment by Peter Herman’s hair and wig design. Evan Eason’s sound design provides appropriate effects, and the actors were easily heard.
I have to admire NCR for its commitment to authors such as Chekhov and Pinter, as well as its commitment to actors talented enough to bring life to these plays.
Performs Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm with Sundays at 7pm. Check the theatre’s website for possible added performances. North Coast Repertory Theatre is located east of the I-5 Freeway on Lomas Santa Fe Drive, in the rear of a shopping center. Ample free parking is available.