Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard' hits its beats at North Coast Rep
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, March 26, 2023
In the midst of a deluge of avant garde ideas bubbling up in the San Diego theatre scene, North Coast Repertory Theatre is leaning into the traditional with its production of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, running through April 2. The version used for this staging is by Jean-Claude van Itallie (whose first translation was published in 1977 and then updated in subsequent editions), and it is presented under the direction of artistic manager David Ellenstein.
The story, which takes place in 1903 at a country estate in Russia, unveils early on that the owner of the home, Lyubov Ranevskaya (Katie MacNichol), has found herself in financial trouble. Having recently returned from her lover in Paris, Madame Ranevskaya has a loose grip on the purse strings and only her elder adopted daughter Varya (Amanda Evans), nouveau riche merchant Yermolay Lopakhin (Richard Baird), and scholar/tutor Trofimov (Michael Raver) seem to truly be able to comprehend just how serious the situation has become.
As the spending and backstory continue, the audience learns about Ranevskaya’s and brother Leonid Gayev’s (Bruce Turk) deep-seated connection to the estate and its adjacent cherry orchard… and watches as its possibility of preservation dwindles in the face of an upcoming auction under which the property has been included.
Many of the actors in this production deliver outstanding performances of this classic material. Baird, as lead Yermolay Lopakhin, alternates between being beseeching, belligerent, and passionate. His monologues are well-delivered and it is easy to see that he is not only proud of overcoming the circumstances of his youth, but also simultaneously tortured and enthralled with change and progress. Ted Barton’s performance as Pishchik is a testament to his training and experience; he carries the clever manipulation of his character and the physical comedy of the role with the air of a seasoned performer. Raver is likewise compelling in his portrayal of the tortured scholar, maintaining a tight control and intentionality over his voice and mannerisms throughout the play. Riley Osburn as young daughter Anya is fragile and ethereal; it is easy to see why Anya is beloved by all. And the indomitable MacNichol packs a punch with her high-drama presentation of Madame Ranevskaya, a woman recovering from the manipulations of a former lover, losing her youngest child in a drowning accident, and suffering the loss of her childhood estate. It is a heavy load to bear, but she does so with ease.
In addition to these principals, the company features a large cast which includes Yasha (Michael Louis Cusimano), Yepikhodov (Jackson Goldberg), Charlotta Ivanovna (Sofia Jean Gomez), Firs (James Sutorius), Dunyasha (Katy Tang), and ensemble/crew (James Thomas Snyder and John Tessmer). These characters are well-dressed in period pieces by costume designer Elisa Benzoni with wigs by Peter Herman and props by Rachel Hengst. Lighting and sound design are by Matt Notovny and Evan Eason, and the show also avails itself well of pronunciation consultant Eva Varnes and magic consultant George Tovar.
The space in which The Cherry Orchard takes place is highly malleable and effective in the narrow Solana Beach venue, using storybook-like folding flats to create the multiple scenes and accompanying each with some carefully selected furniture pieces: a settee here, a desk there. The backlit trees of the cherry orchard, set simply with a bridge and a well in the foreground, are a great example of the way set designer Marty Burnett has created a simple yet transformative stage for the large cast to create upon.
While the narrow stage provides challenges for sound directionality when off-set shouts must occur, it is always understood what is intended and, with a little imagination (and some well choreographed stage management and crew assists), the play flows in a way that effectively tells this long-examined story.
The Cherry Orchard runs at North Coast Rep through April 2.