THE CHERRY ORCHARD by Anton Chekhov (Modern Times Stage Company). At Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw). Runs to April 13. $20.34-$28.25..
The most salient image in Modern Times new staging of Anton Chekhovs final work is that of a figure struggling to illuminate a vast penumbra with a single candle. First staged at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1904, The Cherry Orchard is about how stasis, posturing or denial impairs our ability to truly see our present condition. Affectionate yet unsentimental, the plays sweeping diagnosis of spiritual myopia feels just as resonant in our era of digital-age tribalism as it must have in Chekhovs era of fading aristocracy.
This somber ensemble comedy centers on Lyubov (Arsinee Khanjian), a once-affluent landowner returning to Russia after years spent abroad. Mother to two adult daughters but still grieving the deaths of her husband and youngest child some six years on, Lyubov is overcome by nostalgia and evades repeated petitions from her associate Lopakhin (Oyin Oladejo) to either sell her estate or face financial ruin. As is often the case with Chekhov, dramatic action is largely eclipsed by character development: everyones either mired in the past, tangled in hopeless longing or conjuring utopian visions of the future.
Under the direction of Soheil Parsa, the staging is essentially straightforward, though the casting of Oladejo infuses the production with a brilliant spark of iconoclasm, not only because of Oladejos gender, but also her colour: the descendant of two generations of peasants employed by Lyubovs family, Lopakhin is now a wealthy businessman, thanks in part to the emancipation reform of 1861, so Oladejos Blackness shrewdly underlines Lopakhins otherness.
Yet the casting of Oladejo is also notable because shes simply talented and magnetic, embodying a captivating style characterized above all by fleet, angular gestures.
Chekhovs plays simultaneously encourage modern naturalism and a comedic high style that emphasizes tics, mantras and other neurotic behaviours. (Russias Vakhtangov State Academic Theaters recent Uncle Vanya offered a surprisingly acrobatic response to this tonal challenge.)
Much of Modern Times production is funny and affecting, but its also timid with regards to embracing a bold and, above all, unified approach to performance. Oladejo and Khanjian, along with Alix Sideris, Cliff Saunders, Steven Bush and Andrew Scorer especially, display a consistent sense of enhanced realism I just cant help but imagine how dynamic it would be if everyone in the cast was performing in the same style.
Ming Wongs costumes offer sly signals regarding the characters conflicts, while Trevor Schwellnuss sets allow for fluid lateral movement as characters come and go. But Thomas Ryder Paynes music and effects-heavy sound design tend to interrupt otherwise poignant moments with heavy-handed new-age tropes.
In short, this new Cherry Orchard blooms most fully when serving expressive, precise performances. As for the text itself, its observations about the nature of politics, property and emotions remain evergreen.