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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Cherry Orchard

Goodbye, home! Goodbye, old life!--- Anya

Although this production was planned before the ax fell on The Evidence Room, it's an appropriate theme for the farewell event. Director Bart DeLorenzo has found the soul of what playwright Anton Chekhov often referred to as a comedy. Stanislavsky claimed Chekhov didn't see the sorrow in it but its mixture of tears and laughter is emblematic of life, both as Chekhov saw it, and as it is.

Honoring Chekhov's desire to write a vaudeville comedy, DeLorenzo sets the stage, literally, with the maid Dunyasha who whips a dust cover off a mound of furniture and puts each piece in place using Charlie Chaplin's silent movie mannerisms. Dunyasha sets every Act this way, advancing the course of her doomed romance with Yasha, the valet, through their choreographed passionate duels. This underscores the Downstairs of the servants' life in this Upstairs/Downstairs presentation. Ancient Firs, the butler, and vulnerable stammering young Semyon, the accountant, vividly round out the household staff.

Although DeLorenzo brings the cast and their " instant of life" to blazing reality, their exuberance is layered with tears. This is particularly demonstrated in the unforgettable performance of Maria O'Brien as Liubov Ranyevskaya, the estate's owner, who has returned with her brother Gayev and daughter Anya to save or lose the family property, including its famous cherry orchard.

In elegant contemporary clothes, Liubov, straight from Paris, revisits sorrow at the place where her seven-year-old son drowned. Although she is destitute, she continues to distribute lavish tips, acting as was always expected of her and as she expects of herself. Besotted with a man who cheats her of money and cheats on her with other women, she nevertheless answers his call to come back to Paris and take care of him, fortified with the money her aunt lent them to pay off the mortgage. It wasn't enough and the estate was sold to Lopakhin, a peasant's son turned successful merchant, who will cut down the cherry orchard and install villas budgeted for working men. He loves the family and, in Chekhov's hands, is not a villain but the inevitable face of change.

O'Brien is warm, playful and feckless. Sometimes she seems dazed and seems to be listening. Perhaps it is her listening that evokes the mysterious sound of a harp string breaking which occurs throughout the play. After it's heard the first time, a beggar woman stumbles on stage, as if on signal or an image of the family's present and future. Liubov gives her too much money and she stumbles off again.

Anya seems to look forward to her new life, as does the perennial student, 28-year-old Trofimov, though his sardonic cynicism belies his optimism. Pischchik, a neighboring landowner and clown, is saved by the discovery of clay on his land, a sly example by the playwright of the unpredictability of life. Liubov's brother Gayev will work in a bank, though that seems unlikely to succeed. Varya, Liubov's adopted daughter and housekeeper, has always been an enigmatic figure, bleaker than Sonia in Uncle Vanya, less romantic than Masha in The Seagull. There's been so much talk of her marrying Lopakhin that Liubov prods him to agree to propose. Varya's tight-lipped acceptance of reality and Liubov's laughing evasion of it echo the playwright's ironic theme that life's major events are not what is imposed on us but what we impose on it.

The excellent cast includes many Evidence Room regulars and some newcomers who join the others in melding into a cohesive group. As far as production values go, the group goes down with all flags flying. Lap Chi Chu has designed magnificent joyful clumps of cherry blossoms around the stage, Barbara Lempel's contemporary costumes are glamorous and evocative, and choreographer Ken Roht's dances show us the heart of the family DeLorenzo sometimes stages action at the back of the huge performing space while principal scenes go on in front.

What a shame to let this wonderful facility be anything other than a theatre! If it must, it leaves us with a superb production and a glorious image of Chekhov's characters dancing on the brink of the world.

Playwright: Anton Chekhov
Director: Bart DeLorenzo
Cast: Maria O'Brien (Liubov Ranyevskaya), Lucy Griffin (Anya), Uma Nithipalan (Vanya), Tom Fitzpatrick (Leonid Gayev), Don Oscar Smith (Lopakhin), Leo Marks (Trofimov), Jay Harik (Pishchik), Lauren Campedelli (Carlotta), Michael Cassady (Semyon), Ryan Templeton (Dunyasha), Lee Kissman (Firs), Will Watkins (Yasha), Colleen Kane (A stranger).
Set Design: Lap Chi Chu
Lighting Design: Adam H. Greene & Christopher Kuhl
Costume Design: Barbara Lempel
Sound Design: John Zalewski
Choreographer: Ken Roht
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: May 27-July 2, 2006
Where:. The Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, Reservations: (213) 381-7118
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on May 27.
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