CREATIVE PEAKS: Relevant Roles

By on November 3, 2015

Off Square production delves into timeless trials and tribulations.

A family gawks as their picnic is interrupted by a homeless man in ‘The Cherry Orchard.’ (From left to right), Zack Powell as Petya Trofimov, Ray Fink as Leonid Gayev, Kristyn Chalker as Anya, Leah Holmes as Varya and Nicole Madison Garrett as Liubov Ranyevskaya. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

A family gawks as their picnic is interrupted by a homeless man in ‘The Cherry Orchard.’ (From left to right), Ray Fink as Leonid Gayev, Kristyn Chalker as Anya, Leah Holmes as Varya and Nicole Madison Garrett as Liubov Ranyevskaya. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

Jackson, WY – A tract of land in the family for generations. Pressure to sell, to modernize.

It could be anywhere today in the West. It could even be in Jackson Hole. Instead it’s in Russia at the end of the 19th century and it is the story of “The Cherry Orchard,” by Anton Chekhov.

Off Square Theatre Company’s newest production opens with previews on Thursday and Friday, runs through Sunday and then again next weekend.

Even though the show is set at the turn of the 20th century Russia, the land issues it explores are contemporary and especially relevant in Jackson, said Natalia Duncan Macker, artistic director with Off Square. The story deals with the dilemma families face on whether to try to keep traditions alive and land intact, or whether to sell and subdivide.

“It’s an issue very present in what we deal with locally,” Macker said.

In the play the characters talk about progress and what it means for the environment. Progress means something has to change, director Marjo-Riikka Makela said.

“First and foremost it’s a play about humanity and the good and bad in it,” she said. “It’s about how we are capable of creating and appreciating such beauty and how we are capable of destroying it with the snap of a finger.”

On the surface, “The Cherry Orchard,” is the story about an aristocratic family losing its estate, said Stephen Lottridge, who plays old servant Firs. But the story is really about relationships, and love and loss.

Eighty-seven-year-old Firs has worked for the family for decades. He’s loyal to the family and the estate.

“He holds the memory of the way things used to be,” Lottridge said. “He, along with the cherry orchard itself, represents what is being lost.”

The large cast, which includes about a dozen Jackson residents and several out-of-town guest artists, offers a full theater experience. “It combines fabulous comedy with extreme dramatic theater,” Macker said.

Chekhov is known for creating sad and difficult characters, Lottridge noted. But this show is representative of the Russian spirit, where laughter can be found even in the midst of tragedy, he said.

In that way, the play is like life. “There are some farcical elements, but it is completely a tragedy,” Makela said. “There are comedic elements, but it’s not a typical comedy at all. It’s as unpredictable as life is.”

Makela’s direction gives the characters depth that makes them seem like real people. “There is a kind of energy and vigor in the way she directs us that brings the characters to life and makes them vital, rather than faded,” Lottridge explained.

The intent, Makela says, is for the audience to feel empathy for each character – because that is how Chekhov wrote them. “I’m hoping the characters all become living breathing human beings and the audience tries to understand their different points of view,” she said.

Makela took a traditional approach to the production, allowing the text to speak for itself. The show is normally produced on a larger stage, but Off Square will perform it in the Black Box Theatre using two of the four sides of the stage. The smaller space allows viewers to better follow the story, hearing not just the words, but also seeing the nuanced expressions of the actors, Makela said. It also puts the audience in the story. “They become something more like co-participants in the event rather than distant observers,” Lottridge said.

The show is put on in partnership with the Russian Club of Jackson Hole. There will be a reception and talkback after the 2 p.m. show Sunday.

“The Cherry Orchard,” Off Square Theatre Company, performances at 2 and 7 p.m., Nov 5 through 14. $20 Thursday and Friday and $30 all other shows. PJH

The cast:

Leah Holmes

Anjelica Singer

Nicole Madison Garrett

Ray Fink

Frankie McCarthy

Brian Van Hatten

Carly Mitchell

Stephen Lottridge

Josh Griffith

Craig Kirkpatrick

Tyler Babcock

Kristyn Chalker

Zachary Powell

Brian Landis Folkins


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