Sunday, February 16, 2014

Location! Location!! Location!!! Actors' Shakespeare Project Presents "The Cherry Orchard" at the Stunning Dane Estate

Jake Berger as Boris Einoenov-Pishchin 
Marya Lowry as Madame Ranyevskaya
Stratton McCrady Photography
Huge accolades go out to the creative team of the Actors' Shakespeare Project for their foresight in finding a setting for "The Cherry Orchard" as magnificent as the Dane Estate on the campus of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill.  The ambiance on Saturday evening could not have been more magical or more fitting for this last play written by the dying Anton Chekhov  Intrepid theater.lovers braved the latest blizzard and overcame their hesitation at trying to find an obscure location most had never visited before.  We entered what felt like a Russian winter wonderland.

This is a tale of land poor Russian aristocrats living their outmoded and anachronistic lifestyle on borrowed time - and borrowed rubles - before the tidal wave of Revolution sweeps away their world. The play is set in an estate amid a huge and valuable cherry orchard that must be sold in order for Madame Ranyevskaya to be able to continue to afford to live in the wanton and wasteful style to which she has become accustomed.  To produce a 21st century rendering of this tale in an actual estate - and one reminiscent of faded European splendor - is a stroke of genius.  Each audience member was made to feel that we were guests in the home of Madame Ranyevskaya, eavesdropping on the family melodrama being played out before us as she returns from a five year self-imposed exile in Paris.

Chekhov sensed that he was dying as he wrote this final play, so harbingers of death and defeat hover as specters over much of the mood and action of the play.  The picture below serves as a perfect example.  Madame Ramyevskaya has just been  told by Lopakhin that he has bought the orchard at auction and plans to have it cut down, and to erect vacation cottages in its place.  Struck dumb by this news, she collapses at the foot of the magnificent staircase as if the strings of a marionette had just been cruelly severed.  Her daughter, Varya, suffers a similar death-like collapse when Lopakhin fails to propose marriage to her after dancing around the possibility of such an engagement for years.

Steven Barkhimer as Lopakhin
Marya Lowry as Madame Ranyevskaya
Jake Berger as Simeonov-Pishchik
Stratton McCrady Photography

 The sepulchral presence of faithful servant Fiers, a fading octogenarian, reinforces the looming probability of death and decay.  The promise is eerily fulfilled when Fiers is left behind - locked in the abandoned estate because the family mistakenly believed that someone had taken him to the hospital.  The final scene is haunting.  He lies down atop a pile of rugs that had been rolled up.  It seems as if Chekhov is making a political statement about how this former serf and his ilk had been walked over and ignored for much of the czarist era.  Chekhov's plays did not curry favor with Czar Nicholas.

Steven Barkhimer as Lopakhin
Marya Lowry as Madame Ranyevskaya
Arthur Waldstein as Fiers
Jake Berger as Simeonov-Pishchik
Stratton McCrady Photography

One recurring theme in much of Chekhov's writing is the failure of human beings to connect in a meaningful way with one another or to communicate effectively.  His characters often talk past one another or answer one another with absurd non sequiturs.  This theme is very much in evidence in "The Cherry Orchard."

This production is beautifully directed by Melia Bensussen.  She has blocked the scenes so that this very capable cast uses all of the available space as if they were actually inhabiting this elegant but faded domicile.

The full cast is listed below.  Among this fine ensemble, several actors truly serve as the "cherry" on top of the sumptuous sundae:

  • Marya Lowry as Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya is a brilliant combination of regal, majestic, delusional and desperate.
  • Richard Snee as her brother, Leonid Gayev, is elegantly clad in sartorial splendor and spectacularly clueless.
  • Stephen Barkimer as Yermolay Lopakhin is haughty and self-serving as the former serf who pulled himself up by his bootstraps.
  • Marianna Bassham is the responsible daughter, estate manager and housekeeper, Varya.  Frustrated by Lopakhin's lack of interest in her, she lives as a virtual nun- frigid, rigid and perpetually miserable.
  • Arthur Waldstein  is the perfect Fiers - with the right posture, gait, halting speech and servile attitude.
  • Gabriel Graetz is Simon Epikhodov - "Simple Simon,"   If he were to be paid for each of his pratfalls, he would be a rich man,

This production stands out not just for its superb location, but for its excellent execution.  It is worth a trek out to Chestnut Hill

Actors’ Shakespeare Project presents The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov’s absurdist comedy of human frailties in an evolving world through March 9 at The Dane Estate at Pine Manor College, 400 Heath Street, Chestnut Hill, MA. Directed by Obie Award-winner Melia Bensussen.  For tickets go online to or call at 866-811-4111.

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The cast features Resident Acting Company members:
  • Marya Lowry* (Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya)
  • Richard Snee* (Leonid Gayev)
  • Stephen Barkimer* (Yermolay Lopakhin)
  • Sarah Newhouse* (Charlotta Ivanovna)
  • Marianna Bassham* (Varya) 
Additional cast includes: 
  • Esme Allen as Dunyasha
  • Arthur Waldstein (Fiers)
  • Lydia Barnett-Mulligan (Anya)
  • Jake Berger (Boris Eimoenov-Pischin)
  • Mac Young (Yasha)
  • Danny Bryck* (Petya Trofimov) 
  • Gabriel Graetz (Simon Epikhodov). 
* Members of Actor’s Equity Association.

The creative team includes Melia Bensussen (director), Cristina Todesco (scenic), Arshan Gailus (sound/composition), Nancy Leary (costume), John Malinowski (lighting), and Ian Thorsell (props). The stage management team includes Stage Manager Adele Nadine Traub and Assistant Stage Manager Erica Brown.

Performance schedule is Thurs 2/20 at 7:30pmFri 2/21 at 7:30pmSat 2/22 at 3pm , Sat 2/22 at 8pmSun 2/23 at 3pm (with post-show discussion), Thurs 2/27 at 7:30pmFri 2/28 at 7:30pmSat 3/1 at 3pmSat 3/1 at 8pmSun 3/2 at 3pm (with post-show discussion), Thurs 3/6 at 7:30pmFri 3/7 at 7:30pmSat 3/8 at 8pm (no 3pm show on this date) and Sun 3/9 at 3pm(with post-show discussion).

School matinees are Wed 2/26 at 10am (with post-show discussion), Thurs 2/27 at 10am (with post-show discussion) and Thurs 3/6 at 10am (with post-show discussion).

Tickets are $28 - $50. Student Rush and Group discounts available. For tickets go online to OvationTix or call 866-811-4111 or direct link

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