Ethington’s ‘Cherry Orchard’ Succeeds on Strength of Student Actors

February 19, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

Review by Michael Ferraresi
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

If you’re looking to clap your hands or slap your knee to upbeat show tunes, “The Cherry Orchard” may not satisfy your theatrical appetite. Not that musical theatre or Shakespeare are shallow, but this play is far deeper and darker than anything GCU students have performed in the past couple of years.

"The Cherry Orchard" tells the story of a family's loss -- and a larger story about social classes in pre-Revolutionary Russia.

The dramatic performance of the Anton Chekhov classic, which closes its final trio of shows at Ethington Theatre this Friday through Sunday, is possibly GCU’s most important interpretation of a dramatic text since Ethington reopened to audiences in 2010 after its academic hiatus.

While the humor of “The Cherry Orchard” is genuine, and you will laugh out loud at moments, student actors carry the show with their honest portrayal of heartache and despair. This is important because while Chekhov intended his play as a farce about Russia’s social classes, the script has been widely interpreted as both comedy and tragedy. GCU’s take is clearly worth the visit to the theatre, simply to see how our burgeoning program overlaps Chekhov’s dark humor with the elements of human tragedy.

‘The Cherry Orchard’  
Final shows for the Chekhov classic are also scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday. Ticket info is available by calling 602.639.8880 or by emailing ethington@gcu.edu.  

“The Cherry Orchard” is set in pre-Revolutionary Russia, where an aristocratic family has fallen on hard financial times amid the country’s social and political turmoil. In the play, the family’s cherry orchard outside Moscow is about to be sold at auction to offset their mounting debts, symbolizing the fading power of privileged upper-class Russians.

The play is considered by many theatre aficionados as one of the most difficult plays to stage because of the multidimensional characters and historical backdrop. The Russian character names alone are difficult to pronounce, and audiences unfamiliar with Chekhov may need a cheat sheet to understand them. Claude Pensis, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production, brought in Russians to help the cast perfect their pronunciation of the names.

For last Friday’s premiere, junior Elizabeth Pabst elegantly conveyed the lovesickness, regret and pride of lead female character Liubov Andreevna Ranevskaya. Pabst, who shares the double-cast role with Holly Nordquist, was believable as the once-wealthy landowner whose character is both sympathetic and pathetic. She is a brokenhearted woman, whose failed romance and death of her young son haunt her on the ground where she still finds a childlike solace at the family’s cherry orchard. Pabst shifts effortlessly from a decadent and elegant woman to a woman whose life has been ripped to pieces by misfortune.

Claire Flatz plays the role of Anya Ranevskaya in "The Cherry Orchard."

Cole Brackney does a solid job portraying Lopakhin, the business-savvy serf who offers Ranevskaya’s family an option to save the orchard estate. While he is the latest of multiple generations of servants to the family, he also reveres Ranevskaya and tries to help the family before playing a key role in its demise during the auction of the estate.

Other characters audiences will find themselves captivated by include Ranevskaya’s daughter, Anya (Claire Flatz), and lifelong student Pyotr (played dually by Aaron Potter and Klay Wandelear). Anya reflects the family’s concern about Ranevskaya’s financial woes when she explains how pleasant, but absurd, it seemed to travel to Paris with a mother who “has nothing left.”

Potter’s portrayal of Pyotr borders on riveting at times. The character’s philosophical rants seem to bore the others, who chide him like a child. The audience can almost feel Chekhov’s foreshadowing of a Communist dictatorship when Pyotr clamors for social change to correct the “dirt, banality and backwardness” of Russia.

“The Cherry Orchard” is a play that balances the shadows of the past with the specter of the future. Not everyone knows the history of Russia or the meaning of Chekhov’s script. And you don’t need to. GCU’s players help you along.

GCU’s theatre program is at a point in its history where students can honestly portray the characters of a work such as “The Cherry Orchard.” The love, fear, jokes and overall human emotion of the play indicate how far the program has come in just two years.

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or michael.ferraresi@gcu.edu
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