The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings





Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Review
The Cherry Orchard

It is necessary that on stage everything should be as complex and as simple as in life. People are having dinner, and while they're having it, their future happiness may be decided or their lives may be about to be shattered. --- Anton Chekhov
 Earle Hyman as Firs
Earle Hyman as Firs
The last stage direction of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchardis: "A distant sound is heard that seems to come from the sky, the sound of a snapped string mournfully dying away. A stillness falls, and nothing is heard but the thud of an ax on a tree far away in the orchard." In the Classical Theatre of Harlem's production, this is almost the only quiet moment of the play, and it's very nearly upstaged by the final entrance of Firs (played by veteran actor Earle Hyman, best known as Russell Huxtable on the The Cosby Show).

This is a vibrant, energetic, almost non-stop presentation. It's what we've come to expect from CTH, but not what most people associate with Chekhov.

Chekhov called The Cherry Orchard a comedy, though few people would classify it as such. Prefiguring the fall of Russia's class system, it's the story of Ranevskaya, a spendthrift gentlewoman who has returned to her Russian estate from a five-year sojourn in Paris. She is nearly penniless, though she refuses to admit it to herself. The family finances make the estate's sale inevitable and so Ranevskay throws a big party on the day when it's scheduled for auction. What she doesn't expect is that the buyer is Lophakin, a local businessman, who represents all the changes she and her equally spendthrift brother were too idle and self-absorbed to foresee. For Lophakin the Cherry orchard has no sentimental value. And so, as Ranevskaya prepares for a return to Paris, the orchard is chopped down to make way for a development of summer cottages. coincide with the orchard being chopped down.

The Classical Theatre of Harlem's production of this often revived play is luminous and bittersweet, with an excellent ensemble led by Earle Hyman (a master of comic relief) as Firs, Ranevksaya's 87-year-old manservant; Petronia Paley as Ranevskaya; and Wendell Pierce as Lopakhin. Pierce is at times reminiscent of a televangelist, with an almost hyperactive energy and a fiercely magnetic stage presence. Paley is a statuesque s Ranevskaya, with a nervous air that counteracts the solidity and pragmatism of her daughter Varya (Roslyn Ruff).

Troy Hourie has build an evocative set, with scrims, a raised platform in the middle of the stage which serves as a wall-less living room, and bare trees all around with cherry blossoms scattered over the stage. Jenny Mannis's costumes are somewhere between period and modern, but feel authentic to the play nonetheless. Director Christopher McElroen makes full use of the stage, keeping the action moving at a swift clip and keeping the character relationships clear in the large cast.

A Chekhov play can be a stilted, drawn-out affair, but CTH has found the life and humor in this classic and has wisely played them up, concentrating on the characters and their relationships more than the plot. Despite the tragic ending, this Cherry Orchard is almost heartwarming.

Written by Anton Chekhov
Translated by Michael Henry Heim Directed by Christopher McElroen
Cast: Wendell Pierce, Petronia Paley, Earle Hyman, Charles Turner, Roslyn Ruff, Chandra Thomas, Dana Watkins, J. Kyle Manzay, Carolyn Ratteray, Vinnie Burrows, Georger Hosmer, Darian Dauchan, Michael C. O'Day, and Natalia Geoncharov
Set Design by Troy Hourie
Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter
Costume Design by Jenny Mannis
Running time: Two hours with one ten-minute intermission
Classical Theatre of Harlem, Harlem School of the Arts Theatre, 645 St. Nicholas Avenue, 212-868-4444.
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm.
All tickets $25
02/03/05 through 02/27/05
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on February 6th performance
Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from