The Cherry Orchard
Written by: Anton Chekhov
Directed by: Jessica Puentevella
Presented at: American Theatre of Actors-John Cullum Theatre (2nd floor)
Address of Theatre: 314 W 54th St, New York, NY 10019
Dates of Show: July 28th-August 4th @8pm (dark Monday and Tuesday) July 29th & August 5th @3pm
Review by: Melissa Rojas
Director Jessica Jennings Puentevella decided for the play to take place in America in 1965 when, “past ideals clashed with new thinking and out country was on the verge of a cultural revolution- much like Chekhov’s own time.” The play starts in widow Luba’s (Mdm. Ranevsky) family estate. She is just coming home from Paris to find out that she has such a heavy debt that her estate will be auctioned off if she does not find a way to pay her mortgage. Emrol (aka Lopakhin), a former peasant who has become a rich man warns her about her debt and the problems they will have if they don’t pay off their debt. Somehow, throughout the whole play, Luba manages to keep spending money and seems to never learn her lesson.
Chekhov’s classic touches upon the human mind and the way we live life in it. In a nutshell, these memorable characters seem to always be looking behind them. Salvation is the past. They possess a longing to keep bringing back the good memories. This might be fine but they spend money that is not there. Emrol had the problem of remembering his past as a servant and how badly he was treated and seemed to have not been able to move on from this feeling of injustice that was done. He kept mentioning that it was the family’s fault for him not being able to be more literate and understanding to the way the upper class works. Even in success, Chekhov shows us how we might see failure.
This modernized interpretation of the play provides both comedy and drama. Initially, this works well providing more accessibility to this time/place specific piece. Jessica Jennings Puentevella created a powerful work that was both engrossing and generally entertaining. That last part probably was enhanced by her modernizing touches. Miming of certain props may have had the rationale of modernization as well but in some cases it proved a bit confusing.
Costuming was great. Without other identifiable objects (few props), the fine look of each actor gave us a healthy tableau to play off of. It was as if the director wanted for it to happen so that the audience could understand that these people were all focusing on money and not on the small details – hence they disappeared from sight. Puentevella and the venerable American Theatre of Actors provide us with a new and enlightening way to look at a masterpiece.
The fine ensemble cast featured Elizabeth Chappel (Frankie aka. Yasha), Alexander Chilton (Peter), Jane Culley (Charlotte), Joy Foster (Flor aka. Fiers), Cait Kiley (Velma aka. Varya), Eli Douglas LaCroix (Simon aka. Epikhodov), Joyce Lao (Deloris Pischin), Shanya Lawson (Anna), Johnny Blaze Leavitt (Leonard aka. Gaev), Susan Ly (Francesca aka. Dunyasha), Laris Macario (Emrol aka. Yermoli Lophakin), with extra kudos to Monica Blaze Leavitt for a commanding Luba (aka Mdm. Ranevsky).