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August 3, 2018
Why This ‘60s Update of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ Is So Much Fun
Review of ‘The Cherry Orchard’
Photo credit: Stephen Leung

For a fresh look at Chekov, go see The Cherry Orchard, playing at the American Theatre of Actors as part if its Classic Summer Series. Set in 1965, this production of Chekov's final play puts a fun twist to the original somber play without losing any of its intent.

The play opens with Emrol (the talented Laris Macario), the descendant of a former slave on the property, having fallen asleep awaiting for the aristocratic homeowners to arrive. They are two hours late, a foreshadowing of how they deal with everything that follows. The house, including its famed cherry orchard with fruit no one buys, is up for auction soon, and no one in the family is dealing with this fact, but would rather lie down in their memories of the house.

Emrol is accompanied by the excitable Franchesca (Susan Ly), who is so over-the-top that I wondered if her character was supposed to be tripping on psychedelic drugs. Her performance was never boring and she stood out in all her scenes.

The family is well-cast, with Cait Kiley (Velma) and Monica Blaze Leavitt (Luba) looking like mother and daughter. Both had spirited performances to match. Also on board were Shayna Lawson as second daughter Anna, and Johnny Blaze Leavitt as Leonard, their uncle. The family is a bit stodgy but still romantic, especially when trying to get Emrol to look Velma's way, as she already fancies him. Emrol is far more fascinated by the fact that he makes good money now than by any pretty daughters of the house, a fact he brings up over and over.

There are many other young people in the house: Eli Douglas LaCroix as Simon, whose musical abilities are delightful as he sings the Beatles to his crush Franchesca; Alexander Chilton as Peter, a 27-year-old student who likes Anna; and Elizabeth Chappel as Frankie, who is the only one truly embracing the sexual revolution of the era.

They are balanced with several other adults: Jane Culley as Charlotte, an elegant matron, Joy Foster as Flor, a demure woman who seems to be leading a rather exciting double life, and Joyce Lao as Deloris Pischin, who needs to pay her mortgage the next day and decides asking everyone the night before is the way to go about it. The fact that she is successful indicates how this family handles its finances and leads to its own downfall.

Jessica Jennings’ direction of the play takes place in the spacious, bi-level at the John Cullum Theatre at American Theatre of Actors. She makes good use of this venue by highlighting actors at times when all are on stage so the audience can follow along without feeling like they are working at it. The musical choices fit the era well, and there is a cute dance number to the Chordettes’ "Lollipop" at the beginning of Act 2 that involves the entire cast.

The lighting and sound design by S. Scott Miller are on point, tying together the actors with the era and the vastness of the theatre space, so it is a bit like watching a fine ballet. The costumes are wonderful, especially Franchesca's white go-go boots. The fun vibe of the 1960s is evoked well, making the family's inability to change with their country that more tragic when their decisions come back to haunt them.

Performanes continue through August 5.

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