Chicago Theatre Review
Cherry Orchard – Raven Theatre
The close of Raven Theatre’s 2011 series ended without the bang one would anticipate, judging by the stellar roster of productions. While their season opener, Tennessee William’s powerhouse “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” received bold acclaim for its tight ensemble mechanics, Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” unfortunately doesn’t live up. While indeed there were glimpses of promise in the production—the set design and lighting were inspired— the actual performance, what the audience really pays to see, doesn’t really pay off.
Set in Russia just after the turn of the 20th century, the ancestral home and sweeping cherry orchards of matriarch Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya’s is in foreclosure. Seemingly unable to rein in spending, the family must decide how to proceed—to save their beloved home and orchard or fall victim to their dwindling bank accounts and bad sense. The pickings are ripe for exceptional drama, though in the hands of director Michael Menendian, the production withers.
Maybe it’s the translation, this one by Jean-Claude van Itallie, maybe it’s the direction, but mostly, it’s the cast. The actors played too much on the nose to do one of Chekhov’s most beloved and poignant plays any real service. The play is broadly acted, and rather than focusing on the subtle delivery of lines, most players pushed through them, almost spiting them out, itching it seemed, to get on with it, and after the first act I wished they would. Between the abundance of direct address to the audience instead of each other and focus on characters eccentricities instead of attention to their ethos, there wasn’t much to rave about.
Still, the evening wasn’t all for naught. Performances by Liz Fletcher as Charlotta Ivanovna, Kelli Strickland as Dunyasha and Michael Morgan Peters as tutor Trofimov, shone through the rest.
The show runs now through July 23rd 2011 at the Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St, Chicago.
Reviewed by: Elisa Karbin