The Cherry Orchard | South Pasadena Theatre Workshop

theatre review

PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Roshni Shukla, Lawrence Novikoff, and Michaela Ivey in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop
PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Roshni Shukla, Lawrence Novikoff, and Michaela Ivey in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop

It’s a summer of Chekhov at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop and this week saw the opening of a rollicking and heart-rending production of “The Cherry Orchard” which runs in repertory with “The Seagull” through August 6. Published and premiered in 1904 at a time of great social change in Russia – several decades after serfdom was abolished with the winds of revolution beginning to blow – Chekhov’s final play speaks to the bittersweet notion of change and how we humans manage it, for better or worse.

PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | The cast of The Cherry Orchard on stage at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop
PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | The cast of The Cherry Orchard on stage at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop

Dramatic changes are afoot that will touch everything and everyone in Russia and Chekhov masterfully explores this societal upheaval through the lens of one aristocratic family on the verge of losing everything.

The story centers around Lyubov Ranevskaya (a luminous Sally Smythe) as a once grande dame of a grand estate and its renowned cherry orchard. She arrives from Paris on the brink of poverty, having been robbed by her lover, and proceeds to behave as she always has – taking care of others and opening her purse to anyone in need. It is a role that she defines herself by but losing herself in the reverie of her past renders her incapable of dealing with her current reality. While some of those around her share in her nostalgia like her brother, Gaev (Lawrence Novikoff in a poignant turn), also stuck in his privilege and unable to move forward, and his aged manservant, Firs – others try to shake her into the future, like her practical adopted daughter, Varya, and wealthy businessman, Lopakhin.

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PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Hossein Mardani, Lawrence Novikoff, Sally Smythe, and Kevin Michael Moran in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop
PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Hossein Mardani, Lawrence Novikoff, Sally Smythe, and Kevin Michael Moran in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop

It is Lopakhin (an earnest and forceful Hossein Mardani) who seems to be the voice of reason when he tries mightily to convince Lyubov to sell the orchard and parcel it off into summer bungalows that can be rented to offset her expenses. She and her brother scoff at the idea but have no solutions of their own. Meanwhile the clock is ticking down to an auction where the land will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The characters reveal themselves as being incapable of coping with their change in status and it is their inability to let go of not only the past, but who they have always seen themselves to be, that ultimately prevents them from taking the necessary action to save their home.

PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Roshni Shukla, Lawrence Novikoff, Hossein Mardani, and Anthony Adu in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop
PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Roshni Shukla, Lawrence Novikoff, Hossein Mardani, and Anthony Adu in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop

We meet the characters who surround Lyubov’s life and estate; her daughter, Anya (the effervescent Michaela Ivey), who is concerned for her mother and the estate but is also eager to find her future, which may or may not be with her late younger brother’s former tutor, Trofimov, a spectacled Anthony Adu, who brings passion and vigor to the left-wing intellectual.

PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Ben Michaels, Lauren Vogel, and Nick Apostolina in The Cherry Orchard on stage at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop
PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Ben Michaels, Lauren Vogel, and Nick Apostolina in The Cherry Orchard on stage at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop

Also moving in and about the estate is Anya’s rather loopy governess, Charlotta, played with plucky charm by Christina Conte, a spirited maid, Dunyasha (played with sweet innocence by Lauren Vogel), the frustrated young servant Yasha (a very funny turn with terrific physicality by Nick Apostolina), and Yepikhodov, the bookkeeper (a sweetly enamored Ben Michaels). Both Yasha and Yepikhodov are seemingly vying for Dunyasha’s attention. Kevin Michael Moran gives a delightfully endearing quality to the lighthearted neighbor, Pishchik, and Roshni Shukla is heartbreaking as the long-suffering Varya. Robert Cesario is sadly comical as the aging servant, Firs, and probably sums up the tragedy of it all in one final tableau.

PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Roshni Shukla, Robert Cesario, Lawrence Novikoff, and Michaela Ivey in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop
PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Roshni Shukla, Robert Cesario, Lawrence Novikoff, and Michaela Ivey in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop

As with their “Seagull” production, the main set is the same beautiful, naturalistic stage made of solid redwood planks created by Clay Wilcox with the addition here of soft pink cherry blossoms and enhanced by the subtle, organic lighting design by Leigh Allen and sound design by Nick Foran. Director Sam Cass uses a delicate touch, never pushing the sad moments, but rather allowing them to wash over the audience, much in the way those moments do in life – when you find yourself laughing and then suddenly ask “why am I crying?”

PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Sally Smythe in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop
PHOTO: Jack Serra | The South Pasadenan | Sally Smythe in The Cherry Orchard at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop

The entire ensemble is solid as can be and the time spent at the cherry orchard is indeed entertaining and moving, but the play belongs to Smythe, who evokes Lyubov’s grief with every inch of her body and expression on her face.

The South Pasadena Theatre Workshop is located at 1507 El Centro Street, South Pasadena, CA 91030.

The Cherry Orchard performances run Saturdays July 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, and August 5 at 5pm. Sundays July 9, 16, 23, and August 6 at 2pm.

Tickets start at $25, and information can be found on their website:
www.SouthPasadenaTheatreWorkshop.com.