The weekend before Thanksgiving, the Boston College Theater Department presented The Cherry Orchard on the Robsham Main Stage. This story of an aristocratic family developed themes of home and kinship that are especially suitable for the holiday season. The play was advertised as a comedy, a gesture toward Anton Chekhov’s insistence that this play was not the tragedy it was presented as in its first performance in 1904.
Patricia Riggin, the director (a faculty member in the Theatre Department), closed her director’s note by remarking, “Chekhov marveled at the foolishness of the world around him, something we can clearly still do today.”
The stage was set simply, consisting of a few pieces of furniture that sparkled with the color of Russian folk-art, and featuring a grove of cherry trees as a backdrop. As Riggin explained in her note, the simple stage was meant to keep the audience’s attention focused on the characters and their comical interactions. The simplicity especially drew out the intensity of each unique relationship on the stage.
“In Boston College’s production,” wrote Taylor Tranfaglia and Erica Fallon in the dramaturge’s note, “We attempt to align with Chekhov’s original vision of a light hearted, farcical story.”
Lyubov Ranyevskaya (played by Samuela Nematchoua) is the owner of the cherry orchard. She tells Yermolay Lopakhin, “You ought to see play-acting less and take a good look at your own reality.” The ironic line drew out one of the critical aspects of Chekhov’s plays—that, after all, reality can be somewhat absurd.
The stage-set sensitively represented the passage of time, with the foliage on the cherry trees changing to match the seasons, and hues of light to match the time of day. But the most important contrast in time was the generational contrast between characters. The play featured a cast of diverse ages—from young Anya, (Ally Lardner) to the eternal student, Petya Trofimov (Andrew Meck), to Firs (Will Dalley), the old butler who regularly reminds the cast that the present day is just not like the good old days. As these relationships developed throughout the play, the harm caused by differing generational views worked itself toward the tragicomic ending.
The Cherry Orchard confronts questions that are intended to be as relevant now as they were when Chekhov wrote the masterpiece. Petya treasures an ideal vision of tomorrow, Lyubov and Leonid Gayev (Dan Quinones) want to hang onto an impossible past, and Charlotte (Catherine Backer) knows nothing of where she came from or who she is. But all the deep, soul-searching questions were intentionally set to the tune of a comedy. After all, however serious these questions of life may be, Petya chides the family: “Why are you all so serious?”