‘The Cherry Orchard’ offers laughter through tears
Oct. 8, 2010

When the audience sees the set for Theater Department’s production of “The Cherry Orchard,” they will notice something missing – walls. And that is an important part of the design and direction of the show, said Tracy Riggs, director.

“This will not be what people typically think of when it comes to Anton Chekhov and Russian plays,” said Riggs, Adjunct Professor of Theater Arts. “This is not a dreary show at all – in fact, Chekhov wrote it as a comedy. And that’s why we wanted the set to have a sense of airiness and openness.”

“The Cherry Orchard” was Chekhov’s last play, and it differed from his earlier works, she said.

“As Chekhov neared death, he softened a bit,” she said. “He called this play a comedy, although the director at the time produced it as a tragedy. I understand what Chekhov meant. It’s the whole ‘laughter through tears’ thing. You take a horrible situation and the only way to get through it is to find the humor, the lightness, in it. That’s what makes this play so interesting.”

The 16-member cast includes six seniors – five are veterans on the Price stage, while one is making her acting debut.

Kelsey Tinker, a senior religion major, decided to audition for the show to fulfill a dream.

“I have a bucket list and auditioning for a play was on it,” she said. “It was my very first audition and I thought I did awful, but I got a small part. It’s been a great experience.”

Tinker said she didn’t know what to expect coming into rehearsals, but was grateful for the welcome she received.

“Everyone has been so nice,” she said. “And I never knew how much work goes into putting on a show.”

“The Cherry Orchard” takes place in Russia during the turn of the 20th century. The grand dame Ranevskaya is returning to her family home after living in Paris for five years, following the death of her husband and the drowning of her young son. She has returned to the estate as it and its well-known cherry orchard are being sold.

Mary Duttweiler has the pivotal role of Ranevskaya.

“She is learning how to move past grief,” Duttweiler said. “She is transformed from a woman to a woman who was unable to deal with her grief and who fled responsibility understands herself more and reconnects with those family members she completely abandoned when she moved to Paris. It’s interesting to try to find her highs and lows, and the moments when she makes those transitions.”

Anna Carroll Sims has a different challenge in her role as Anya, the 17-year-old daughter.
“She is coming into her own, growing into adulthood but still being treated as the baby of the family,” she said. “Anya is the one who brought her mother home, and she’s much stronger than she appears. The hard part has been to find a way to play a 17-year-old without making her seem too young.”
Ashley Betsill makes some alterations to Jenny Crawford’s costume.

Ashley Betsill makes some alterations to Jenny Crawford’s costume.

Jenny Crawford appears as Varya – Ranevskaya’s 22-year-old adopted daughter.

“Her job is to keep everyone in check and to run the house,” Crawford said. “She stayed behind when her mother and sister moved to Paris. She is a very complex character with complex emotions. One minute she is crying and screaming at people, and then she is happy. She’s fun to play.”

Playing the clown of the show, Kenny Wiley is Yephikhodov, a clumsy household clerk.

“Yephikhodov is in desperate need of approval, especially from Dunyasha, a servant who tries to act like a lady,” he said. “He has difficulty expressing himself. He will talk and talk and not make sense, and then he will try to laugh it off.”

Demetrice Tuttle is appearing in his last LC production as Gaev, Ranesvskaya’s brother who has been living with the family.

“He’s not connected with the real world,” Tuttle said. “He lives and breathes in the past, and loves to talk. He is obsessed with the finer things in life. He’s never worked a day in his life, but the cherry orchard symbolizes the good life and the glories of the past to him.”

Tuttle first appeared on the Price Theater stage in “She Loves Me” during fall of his freshman year. He said “Cherry Orchard” is special because it brings his theater experience full circle.

“My very first time on stage was in ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ (for the Lafayette Theater Company) and I was directed by Tracy Riggs,” he said. “And now, she is directing me in my final Price show. I am very grateful for everything she has done for me.”

Bringing the characters of “The Cherry Orchard” to life has been a joy, Riggs said.

“I love Chekhov,” she said. “He takes his characters to the edge, creating complex and interesting people. They are funny, endearing and sad, but they are all figuring out how to make it. Just like the rest of us.”

The box office opens Monday and will be open from noon to 4 p.m. every weekday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for senior citizens and students. College students, faculty and staff are admitted free. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the box office at (706) 880-8080.

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