‘Cherry Orchard’ is tribute to Chekhov in Orleans

By Ellen Petry Whalen, Cape Codder

Attention to detail can make all the difference between a great work of art and an average one. In Elements Theatre Company’s dramatic rendition of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” no detail is overlooked, from lively Russian folk dancing to the perfect pronunciation of tongue-twisting Russian names. In fact, the whole production is a spectacular web of details, perfectly woven together to create a dazzling tapestry of emotion, color, movement and sound.

The theater company’s journey into turn-of-the-20th-century Russia started a year ago when Chekhov’s last play was chosen to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the playwright’s birth. Trying to understand and capture what director Danielle Dwyer calls Chekhov’s “tongue-in-cheek” approach to tragedy, the theatrical troupe spent a month in New York City, studying at the Michael Chekhov Acting Studio (Michael Chekhov was Anton Chekhov’s nephew).

Elements’ multitude of dramatic preparations and pure hard work brings pre-Revolution Russia to life on its stage. The story revolves around the many changes of the time, focusing on social class, relationships and money. It spotlights the self-indulgences of the aristocracy as they blindly run their coffers dry while hard-working peasants try to find meaning in their new material goods and intellectual pursuits.

Dwyer expertly plays the spendthrift and guilt-ridden Madame Ranevskaya. She is the owner of her family’s ancestral estate and beautiful cherry orchards, which are to be auctioned off if financial arrangements are not secured. As Lopakhin, a wealthy merchant who cannot escape the memories of his poor upbringing, Chris Kanaga is magnificent. He tries to help the crumbling aristocratic family, yet Madame Ranevskaya is stuck in denial, resistant to change. Brad Lussier comically plays Madame Ranevskaya’s brother who is no better able to make a decision, preferring the playing of billiards to reality.

Each member of the cast of 27 gives a meticulous performance. The highly professional troupe gives its heart and soul to the production producing a dramatic masterpiece. Although the play is two-and-a-half hours long and covers heavy emotional material, the show went off flawlessly on opening night. The breathtaking and impressively large set (Amy Mitchell and Hans Spatzeck-Olsen) with its grand appointments of intricate staircases, paneled walls and beautiful furnishings surpasses Elements’ already high bar from past sets. The rich costume designs, produced by a busy crew of 14, highlight the distinction between the classes, from basic, beige tunics to elaborate gowns with flowing trains.

The only flaw in Elements’ “The Cherry Orchard” is the limited number of performances. With six planned and three down, there are only three shows left to enjoy this perfect tribute to Chekhov.