Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” an ACTLab and The Seagull Project Collaboration

Ah Chekhov, master playwright and social commentator! And now playing at ACT we have his last drama, “The Cherry Orchard,” directed by John Langs, and offering an exploration and examination of social change in Mother Russia. Anyone interested in theatre should have seen or should see this play, but, like all Chekhov’s plays, it moves slowly and demands concentration.

It’s the turn of the twentieth century, and life in Russia is changing. We see the ramifications of this change played out on the estate of Madame Ranevskaya who returns from an extended stay in Paris. She’s back where her beloved cherry trees are blooming. The family retainers greet her with warmth, and all would be well except for the fact that her debts are enormous, and she may well lose all that she holds dear. But she’s an aristocrat, tied to the values of a previous time. She’ll hold her parties, dance merrily, and do well at ignoring the warnings that her world is about to destruct.

Julie Briskman as our heroine, Ranevskaya, combines naiveté with hard-headedness. Oh she’s so delighted to be back on her dear estate and wants to hear nothing from anyone who might be able to address her looming financial problem.

Among her would-be advisors is Lopakhin, played by Brandon J. Simmons with delicious sophistication and command. He’s the son of a former serf, but the changing world offered him opportunities that he was well prepared to make the most of. He has a grand plan that would indeed save the estate, but our heroine wants no part of it. He’s a suave presence, so sure of himself, so far from his serfdom background.

Mention must also be made of Hannah Mootz as Dunyasha, one of the housemaids. No modest little house wren is she! She dresses like a lady, flirts and flits about with confidence. She sashays, holds her head high, and is the epitome of the changing social world.

In Jennifer Zeyl’s set, the floor on which the action takes place is elevated and the actual stage floor just below it is strewn with cherry blossoms. Gauzy floor length draperies speak to impermanence, yet elegant crystal chandeliers epitomize the old order. And there, centered on the stage are two potted cherry trees, in blossom.

As the play ends, the family have packed to leave, their goods, in disarray around them, are gradually carried off. Meantime, the sound of axes chopping down the cherry trees can be heard. It’s the end—of a play and of a social order.

Through Feb. 19, at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

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