Anton Chekhov is held up as one of the great dramatists in the entire canon and helped establish the prominence of the Moscow Arts Theatre and Konstantin Stanislavski, two pillars of modern realistic acting. The Cherry Orchard was Chekhov’s final play and is a fascinating exploration of changing times and family loyalty, clinging on to the past in hopes of a brighter future. One of the play’s greatest attributes is the duality in its tone, flipping between comedy and tragedy. This contrast reaches back to the play’s early beginnings, where Anton Chekhov wrote the play as a comedy, but Stanislavski perceived and directed the play as a tragedy. Midland Center for the Arts’ Cornerstone production does a fine job of balancing that seesaw and providing an enjoyable evening at the theater.
The play focuses on the family of a Russian landowner who comes home to deal with the affairs of the family estate in jeopardy of being auctioned off to cover the mortgage, a threat that has a different effect on every member of the family. Early on the audience is introduced to every character in a way that highlights Chekhov’s writing . As the play goes on the audience is privileged to hear closed door conversations that support the play’s themes of aristocracy and materialism. Watching the socio-economic differences between the characters and the world around them hold a unique weight when considered against the backdrop of our modern world. The play is a tight two and a half hours that impressively only felt like an hour and a half.
Strong performances throughout the cast grounds the production’s success. Ashley Potts as mother Ranevskaya understands the subtle nuances of her character, torn between what she has and what the world expects her to have. Jason Applegate is driven towards his goals as a compelling Lopakhin. Tony Lynch’s Gaev is amiable and warm, so relatable that I felt as though I had met him at my own family’s dinner table. Lily Somers’ Dunyasha is a joy to watch and serves the play well as reminder of Russia’s class system. Isaac Haviland’s Trofimov is reminiscent of Perchik from Fiddler on the Roof, focusing on his idealism and the world just out of reach.
Director Keeley Stanley-Bohn keeps the play moving at an incredible pace with clear diction and fully established relationships. Courtney Brown’s costume design is exquisite and Marie Andrews’ lighting design was dynamic. Richard Bronson’s sound design was somewhat inconsistent, with sound effects and music often feeling unbalanced or misplaced. The one downfall of the production came from Evan Lewis’ scenic design. Chekhov as an art form is rooted in realism, and the set felt anti-realistic and minimalistic. The pieces were all executed well, but I was missing the weight of the estate and the cherry orchard. It was hard to understand the family’s emotional and materialistic connection to the home with a set that, in this production, served the transitions necessary in the play. The final moments of the play, although beautiful, also seemed like an abrupt U-turn out of the form and style of the rest of the play. The director and/or designers had a clear image they were able to execute, but I'm not sure it was consistent with the rest of the storytelling.
The play was enjoyable and accessible, often easier said than done with Chekhov. The Cherry Orchard is indeed a Cornerstone, and this production is an enjoyable one that should not be missed. The show continues to play Jan 18 & 19 at 7:30pm and Jan 20 at 3pm. Tickets can be purchased online, in person, by phone at (800) 523-7649 or (989) 631-8250.