BWW Review: Competing Ideas and Unrealized Plotlines Leave THE CHERRY ORCHARD Struggling to Take Root
In director Soheil Parsa's THE CHERRY ORCHARD, produced by Modern Times Stage Company in association with Crow's Theatre, the concept of nostalgia versus progress seems to be the underlying message. At several moments throughout it's brought front and centre, however the sheer number of characters to keep up with and a range of unresolved plotlines distract from the political and societal issues that struggle to remain In Focus.
Set in 1800s Russia, the story follows peasant-turned-businessman Lopakhin's (Oyin Oladejo) attempts to assist Lyubov (Arsinée Khanjian) and her family as they face the forced sale of their estate, beloved cherry orchard and all. As the family continue to refuse Lopakhin's recommendations it becomes apparent that they'll lose the estate, and when it does occur there is little sympathy to be had - as the matriarch, Lyubov's inactivity and inability to let go of her past to ensure her and her family's security is her own downfall.
As the leader of the family, Khanjian presents Lyubov as the unrealistic woman she is, offering a solid performance overall but relying on the dramatic components of the character's personality to exaggerate, making her more of a foolish leader than a reasonable caretaker. Contrasting her, Oladejo portrays the businessman wonderfully and the casting of a black woman in a role frequently inhabited by white men offers a new layer to Lopakhin's backstory. In the moment of victory once the fate of Lyubov and family has been determined, the examination of Lopakhin's childhood and family history as servants of the estate makes the impending progress especially moving.
The remainder of the ensemble do a solid job of bringing each character to light, however there is little consistency or cohesiveness between them. At certain points, characters are more like caricatures than people, with the aged script relying on tearful women and obnoxious men too often. There are numerous relationships throughout the story that are never fully realized, which prevents any serious emotional attachment to the idea of any of the couples, siblings, or friends.
Despite this, one standout of the ensemble is Firs (Andrew Scorer), the aged manservant of the estate who Scorer depicts as a potentially senile and stuck in the past servant who has never known freedom and doesn't seem to mind how he's treated. His final monologue is especially strong as it signifies the change coming to the estate, and his physical characteristics throughout the story - the spluttering, the mumbling, and the shuffling around the stage - offer dimension and power to a character who is viewed by others as irrelevant.
The story has the luxury of being beautifully lit (technical direction by Courtney Pike and scenography by Trevor Schwellnus), with a range of lanterns and candles placed and carried throughout scenes and set changes offering unique lighting opportunities. The backdrop, suggesting a starry sky, is also a great inclusion to the stage design. The lack of furnishings suggests the slow downfall of the family, as there are fewer and fewer set pieces from one scene to the next as they move closer to eviction.
While the complex collection of characters and dead-end plotlines detract from the story's overall narrative, there are a few moments where characters are free to speak politically that help to refocus the story. Slavery and ownership of humans, societal progression, and class differences are all interesting subjects that don't get nearly enough time to be explored, leaving the end of THE CHERRY ORCHARD feeling about as empty as the estate itself.
THE CHERRY ORCHARD runs through April 13 at Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit https://www.crowstheatre.com/whats-on/view-all/the-cherry-orchard