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People’s Light delivers a fine ‘Cherry Orchard’

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REVIEW WRITTEN BY FRANK BURD 
For Digital First Media

What relevance can a play that is more than 100 years old, about the Russian landed gentry losing its family estate, have for a modern audience? The answer is simple. In Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” at People’s Light and Theater, Director Abigail Adams has directed an outstanding production by a genius, well ahead of his time. She, and her remarkable cast have found all the nuances, the contradictions, and the humor in this often-produced play, that has made it a classic.
The orchard of cherry trees that produces no edible fruit, is the symbol that represents the past, that represents tradition, and that Lyubov (the 50-year old matriarch of the family) strives to protect. It represents her family and her life. I can’t begin to say enough about the remarkable performance of Mary McDonnell as the beautiful and gracious Lyubov. She is charming and kind, trying to please everyone with a smile, a touch, a genuine concern for all around her, even though it is folly to think she can survive without money. We are mesmerized by Lyubov’s story, as much by her indiscreet loves as by the loss of her young son.

 Mary McDonnell  and David Strathairn star in "Cherry Orchard." Photo: Mark Garvin

Mary McDonnell and David Strathairn star in “Cherry Orchard.” Photo: Mark Garvin

In contrast to Lyubov is the younger Yermolai (Pete Pryor), a poor boy, raised on the estate, who has grown into a successful entrepreneur and sees a practical solution for avoiding the loss of the property to auction. But his “modern” approach is in conflict with the old traditions. Were it written today, he would be carrying an ipod and cell phone while the others would be sending long letters via the post.
But what makes this play such an outstanding production is the complexity of each of the many characters. No two are alike. Each has their story. Each has their moment. Each wants to express their feelings. And in most cases, no one wants to hear what the other has to say. It is tragic. But with this group of fine actors and Emily Mann’s outstanding adaptation, it is also very comic.
Chekhov was a sketch writer, a short story writer for many years before he began writing plays. He wrote jokes in a satirical magazine, before it was outlawed after the death of the Tsar in 1881. It is likely that if he were alive in the 1950’s, he would have been writing for the new medium, television, before branching out into theater.
In “The Cherry Orchard,” the hope by some is that something will just turn up, or that they will win a lottery. There is the old valet, once a serf and the bumbling accountant. There is the student intellectual theorizing a better life, as well as the daughters who are wishing for romance. And the word “love” is only mentioned once. Yes, it is also a story of the different perspectives on young love as well as failed love.
I’ve seen “The Cherry Orchard” many times before. It’s never been as fine as this. Adams’ direction, from the broad characterizations by some of the family, to the subtle nuances of others, is spot on. And the cast, led by McDonnell, Pryor, and David Strathairn was perfect. It’s a play, a production, that most definitely resonates with power and passion, and a joy to be seen, more a century after it was written.

IF YOU GO

What: “The Cherry Orchard”
When: Through March 8.
Where: People’s Light & Theatre, 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern.
Info.: For ticket information, call (610) 644-3500 or check http://peopleslight.org.

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