Note: When I attended this performance, the understudies were 'up' and so you may see a different set of actors. Mentioned for accuracy's sake not as anything like a criticism.
Anton Chekhov's plays usually come across as somber dramas about hopelessness and despair. In fact he himself didn't see them that way. Rather, he saw them as very funny comedies about hopelessness and despair.
The Cherry Orchard successfully renders the very character-based humor of Chekhov, which so often gets interpreted as drama. In fact they play more like dark sitcoms, a blend of soap opera with shows such as Cheers! than angst-driven tragedies a la Eugene O'Neil. Yeah all these people are pretty much losers, fools trying to get by who--for the most part--refuse to correct their own circumstances by making uncomfortable choices. Lifeboats await them, the waters rise, but they keep hoping someone else will save the ship. That way they won't have to change their clothes and choose which of their favorite toys and books they'll have to leave behind. So, they ultimately drown, looking on with bewilderment as others abandon them in order to survive--said others often yelling over and over "Come with us! Save yourselves!"
What adaptor/director Jared Wilson chose was to transpose events from turn-of-the-century Imperial Russia to modern day Texas. Kinda/sorta. The names remain the same-- --but costumes and accents pretty much scream "Texas." One of my few complaints is how a more specific world doesn't quite emerge from this. The talk of "dollars" for example amidst all the Russian names, coupled with the startling references to slaves in living memory, jar a bit. But only a bit. Mostly, I found myself sucked into this world--at first with the fascination of a seeing a car wreck, but eventually with a melancholy sense of affection for these...well, losers.
In the original Russian setting this referred to serfdom, still part of the living memory of Chekhov and his contemporaries.
Central to the whole story lies Lenny (Maxwell Marsh), son and grandson of slaves, whom he hates yet whose respect he still desires. Crude, trying far too hard, full of energy which has led him to acquire genuine wealth, Lenny hopes to save Renee and Greg--well, mostly Renee--from their debts. He has a workable plan. Sell the estate to make condos. Simple, he insists. Neither will listen. Neither will even consider listening. The whole idea -- the only way in fact of saving themselves from extreme poverty -- remains beyond comprehension. Yeah, the ship sinks and they just hope somehow the water won't reach them.
Even the various retainers at the estate--Joseph Bills, Madison Charest, Marryn Landry--make up part of the sinews, the blood and tissue of those who dwell, perhaps haunt, the old and beloved cherry orchard. Yet despite all the absurdity, the casual and often deliberate cruelty, not to mention a tiny mountain range of foolishness, we laugh. Perhaps to keep back the tears, because while sooner or later everyone does something hateful, we never end up hating them. Rather, we grow fonder and fonder of these nice, stupid, petty and complex people.
The Cherry Orchard plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 5pm until January 22, 2017 at the Loft Ensemble, 13442 Ventura Blvd (across from the Psychic Eye), Sherman Oaks CA 91423.