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A CurtainUp Review
The Cherry Orchard Sequel
By Kate Shea Kennon
Nic Ularu has taken a "what if and what then" approach to Chekhov, deconstructing the nuance and nostalgia of Chekhov's famous Ranevskaya family. Whereas Chekhov lingers over the slow demise of the Russian estates and their aristocratic past, Ularu places the Ranevskayas and their entourage squarely in the face of the oncoming chaos of the Russian Revolution.
The time is 18 years after Lyubov (Robyn Hunt) left her beloved cherry orchard in the hands of real estate developer Lophakin (Richard Jennings), who has secretly loved her all these years. When the now terminally ill Lyubov returns to see her lands once more, she finds that the house is as decrepit as the metaphoric heart of Russia.
Trofimov (Paul Kaufmann), whom we last saw as Lyubov's probable son-in-law, now professes to hate the Ranevskaya family. He is a member of the Red Army but has returned to warn Lophakin of the dangerous regime ahead. His intended, the lovely and loved Anya, is rumored to be a prostitute in France, with Yasha, the footman, her pimp.
Since it's 1922, the dangers are real for Stalin is quietly becoming the secretary general of the Communist Party. However, the heavy handed action of The Cherry Orchard Sequel burlesques the artful characters from the original work. Pimp, prostitute, student turned soldier are now the broad, cartoonish characters who now inhabit Chekhov's mother Russia.
Writing a sequel to Chekhov's masterpiece is an understandable ambition. Chekhov left his characters all at point of no return: "Good-bye home! Good-bye, old life!" exclaims Anya in the conclusion. "Welcome new life!" Trofimov optimistically joins in. The revolution will soon begin. Chekhov did not live to see it, but it is there on the horizon of the orchard. However, Ularu takes such shortcuts in characterization that the audience feels cheated with the play's resolution.
The actors generally perform well , but the direction of the play is rushed. Exits and entrances are madcap enough to be funny — if this was a comedy or, as Chekhov saw it, a farce. Characters emerge, comment on some horrifying action that has just taken place offstage, and then disappear.
One gratifying aspect of this sequel comes from a character you want to spend more time with: Epihodov (John-Patrick Driscoll), Chekhov's clerk of "two and twenty misfortunes." Ularu has some fun with this character by making him a journalist— a profession where his clumsiness and confusion is an asset. Since Chekhov too was a journalist this kind of parody and wit can work. Ularu also wittily accounts Epihodov's clumsiness with a poltergeist — the spirit of Grisha (Patrick Michael Kelly), Lyubov's son who drowned long ago. The idea of ghosts was entertained by Chekhov in a metaphoric allusion to the past which thus makes bringing those ghosts to a reality a witty intimation by the playwright.
The main frustration with Sequel. . . for Chekhov lovers is that beloved characters are brought back to life only to be quickly sent back on their merry way once they have broadcast the night's didactic agenda. That agenda is laid out as a history lesson. And in case it is missed the "mini-play from rehearsals" in the program describes the director scolding his actors toward an awareness of Communism and its victims. Mr. Ularu scolds us as well. Comrade Boris evokes the name of Stalin who is to come to real power in six more years.
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The Playbill Broadway YearBook
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