THEATER REVIEWS Picking cherries at The Cherry Orchard: Poor rich folk entertain audience

Anybody who has watched daytime television knows that the rich have it tough. However, the once prosperous and now bankrupt have it worse, as evidenced by reality television, and The Cherry Orchard playing this week at the Jerry Herman Ring theatre.

The story involves the return of the Ranyevskaya to their estate in rural Russia in 1901 to sell their beloved cherry orchard. A process that most of the family, especially the nostalgic Madame (Ariana Shore) and her eccentric brother Gayev (Christian Mansfield), would rather avoid. Their refusal to listen to the advice of fellow landowner and venture capitalist Lopahkin (Glen De Kler) leads to the ultimate tragedy of the play.

Chekhov, as they announced before the show started, gets a bad rap on campuses. He is lauded by academics, but students find him dry, boring, and dead. While translator Michael Frayn (Noises Off) does a really good job of keeping the audience laughing, many of the play’s minor characters are grossly under utilized. Also, Frayn seems to have retooled some of the characters that I just finished over analyzing for my World Literature class, for instance, changing Firs (Nick Koziura) from the bitter butler to the beleaguered babysitter, and younger footman Yasha (Matt Herell, a vast improvement over his showing in Twelfth Night) from lazy drunk to elitist cad.

The acting was all right, but there weren’t any real breakthrough performances. The actors were either trying too hard (like Shore), slightly under playing, or just average. There were parts that were completely inaudible from my vantage point in the 4th row, but were apparently mildly funny judging from the audience in the cross section.

The set was sparse with four rugs and a few pieces of furniture, including a miniature of the estate house placed at the center of the stage. Unfortunately the lighting was harsh and uninspired, resembling more the glaring spotlights of A Chorus Line than the subtle beauty of Twelfth Night. The sound and music were soft and quiet, but still had an obviously canned sound to them.

I’m not saying this is a bad play, but it does have some annoying flaws. The lighting and sound can probably be easily fixed. This wasn’t the best play I’ve seen at the Ring, but if you enjoyed Frayn’s Noises Off earlier this season and Twelfth Night, then The Cherry Orchard might be to your liking.

UM Student Admission is $6 for weeknights and matinees, $8 for Friday and Saturday nights. Tuesday nights are free and since two plays are in production now buy one play and get the other for one dollar. The box office number is 305-284-3355.

Jonathan Twiggar can be contacted at