By Julie Horner with David Leach, Dave Halper, and Tom Goldrup
Mountain Community Theater masterfully exposes the folly of human inaction in their production of Anton Chekhov’s final masterpiece, The Cherry Orchard, opening Friday, November 22 at Park Hall in Ben Lomond and running weekends through December 15. Directed by Bill Peters, a renowned professor at San Francisco State known for his Shakespearean genius, this is “a work of art that embraces the whole variety of life.”
Chekhov, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history, wrote The Cherry Orchard in 1903. The play opened at the Moscow Art Theatre in January 1904 in a production directed by Konstantin Stanislavski, who is credited for evolving the naturalistic performance technique known as method acting. In method acting, actors deliver sincere and emotionally expressive performances that fully identify with the character they are portraying.
The story unfolds in the Crimea region of Ukraine.
“The Cherry Orchard is a comedic drama about a Russian family, landed gentry, basically the idle rich, but they are falling on hard times and their estate is for sale.” The estate includes a magnificent cherry orchard, famously beautiful, which also now must be sacrificed due to the family’s inextricable debt. “The culture has changed, the children got caught up in not knowing how to make a living, the free labor was gone,” says Dave Halper, who plays the role of Yepikhodov, the estate clerk.
“It’s happening to all of us. The play is very down to earth, there’s no grandiosity in any of it. If you don’t pay the mortgage, the estate is going to be sold. The characters are very human, very relatable. You’ll see people you know in these characters. Not because they’re a buffoon or a thug or a character out of the norm. It’s your brother, your neighbor. You’ll recognize yourself in the characters,” says Halper.
David Leach, who plays the role of Leonid Andreieveitch Gayev, an eccentric family member who embodies the aristocracy’s decadent life of leisure says The Cherry Orchard seems like classic tragedy but it was written as comedy. “Chekhov wrote these pieces as a slice of life. He lets it unfold before you, you get to know the characters. He’s exposing humanity at its most real,” says Leach. “And we’re fortunate to be working with a director who sees it as it was written, as comedy.”
Tom Goldrup, who plays A Stranger, a passer-by who encounters the Gayevs as they laze around on their estate, has been to Ukraine three times. “Going to the Ukraine, I fell in love with the people and the place.” Tom has been with Mountain Community Theater since 1983, the year after they opened. This is his 19th play. “I’ve worked with everyone before, like a family together, it’s a great cast…Bill has a great crew.”
“Our director, Bill Peters, when the audience comes in, they’ll feel like they’re coming into a family, a real theater experience,” says Halper. “He also has this ability to bring out the human in the actor. As an actor, we have a natural tendency to project, be bombastic, be a little louder. Bill has a way of bringing it down to a conversational level. I’ve worked with him three times now. He’s got the ability to bring me down to a place I’d never thought of going as an actor.”
“Bill takes the time to explore the motives, the moments as they occur between people, that give texture and life, that make the whole production glow. There’s so much that is unwritten that Bill brings to the surface. Why did Chekhov say that twice? Why did he repeat it over here? Bill explores the depth of the process, fleshes it out,” says Leach.
Goldrup agrees: “I’ll second that, make that unanimous…we all wanted to audition. We all worked together doing Julius Caesar. He’s a great director to work with, a great human being. Bill would say, ‘Why don’t you try it this way, speak to me.’ It’s what you look for, that kind of understanding of the author and a subject. To have that opportunity to explore Chekhov under Bill’s directorship was not to be missed.”
Chekhov studied Shakespeare closely, and his works are intertwined with Shakespearean motifs. David Leach explained, “They’re both brilliant writers, but Shakespeare repeats his words – it’s finely crafted – he was exploring the beauty of the language.” Chekhov comes at it a different way. “He’s exploring the opportunity of life, exploring the beauty of the human experience. A completely different angle and just as completely amazing.”
“It’s very funny – it’s like life, like life ought to be – full of fun even if it is full of errors as well.” – David Leach
Halper, who has been with MCT for five years, invites everyone to experience The Cherry Orchard. There’s a little music, a little dancing, but mostly it’s about human interaction. “Come see the show, you’ll enjoy it.”
He also encourages anyone with an inkling to become involved in the theater. “MCT is open to everyone, it’s a very friendly and supportive group. If somebody is curious about being involved in theater, come be on stage crew, do technical stuff, walk into an audition. If you want to be part of the fun, you don’t have to be on stage. You’re not committing to anything you don’t want to commit to. This is an opportunity to be part of the community experience.”
The Cherry Orchard opens Friday November 22nd and runs four weekends through Sunday December 15th at Ben Lomond’s historic Park Hall, 9400 Mill Street.
Friday and Saturday performances: 8 p.m. | Sunday matinees: 2:00 p.m.
Community Night: Saturday, November 30, all tickets are two for $20.
Post-show champagne reception on opening night Friday, November 22nd.
Talk-backs with the cast and director after the performances on Sunday, November 24 and Saturday, November 30.
“The Russians adore their past, hate the present, and fear the future. How sad it would be if we forgot that the future we fear turns slowly into the present we detest, and the past that we adore.” – Anton Chekhov
The Cherry Orchard Cast: Sarah Albertson, Jocelyn McMahon-Babalis, Nat Robinson, Scott Kravitz, Helene Simkin Jara, Sequoia Jones, Jim Goldrup, David Leach, Rick Kuhn, Alie Mac, Aki’o Nanamura, Dave Halper, and Tom Goldrup.
© 2019 Julie Horner – Mountain Community Theater Presents: The Cherry Orchard – November 22 through December 15, 2019.
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