COURTESY KAREN ARCHIBALD
A clumsy and forward Semyon (David Starr) proposes marriage to housemaid Dunyasha (Kathy Hunter) in Hawaii Pacific University's production of "The Cherry Orchard."
A production of Chekhov's complex work blossoms with a talented local cast
Hawaii Pacific University's "The Cherry Orchard" is a beautifully nuanced show that demonstrates the artistic merits of the theater program's unique position. On one hand, with the financial resources of the university behind her, HPU theater director Joyce Maltby can present classic works from any era without being restricted by commercial considerations.
'The Cherry Orchard'
On stage: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 29
Place: Hawaii Pacific University
Tickets: $20, with discounts for seniors, military, students and HPU faculty and staff; discounted tickets available on Thursdays
On the other, as Maltby casts her shows primarily from the general pool of community theater talent, the shows provide the opportunity to enjoy the work of some of Hawaii's top stage actors in the relatively intimate confines of the Paul and Vi Loo Theatre.
"The Cherry Orchard" is a winner on both counts.
Eden-Lee Murray stars as Liubov Andreievna Ranyevskaya, playwright Anton Chekhov's conflicted protagonist, and is the linchpin of what can be described without much exaggeration as an all-star cast. Other marquee names: Larry Bialock (Boris Semyonov-Pischchik), David Starr (Semyon Yepikhodov), John Hunt (Leonid Andreieveitch Gayev), Derek Calibre (Petya Trofimon), Patrick Casey (Firs) and director Maltby's daughter, Melinda Maltby (Varya).
Two relatively new faces, James Locke (Yermolai Alexeievitch Lopakhin) and HPU student Kyle Goff (Yasha) -- standouts in Maltby's production of "The Lion In Winter" last fall -- distinguish themselves here as well. Chelsea Jones makes a promising local debut as Anya.
With all this talent and more to work with, the director's take on the controversial show is fascinating and thoroughly entertaining.
Ranyevskaya, a Russian aristocrat, returns to her family estate after five years of extravagance in France and discovers that the property is to be auctioned off to pay the mortgage. Lopakhin, a wealthy man who built himself up from his birth status as son of a serf, suggests that Ranyevskaya and her brother, Gayev, raise the money to pay their debts by subdividing the property and developing it into vacation lots. Ranyevskaya refuses and continues to spend money irresponsibly -- while various family members consider more palatable, albeit pie-in-the-sky, solutions to their financial problems and impending eviction.
The tragedy here is that we're watching people respond to a clear and present danger by doing almost nothing to avert it.
There is, of course, another tragic aspect that Chekhov could not have anticipated in 1903. In less than 20 years the aristocrats and the newly rich alike would be destroyed in the maelstrom of the Bolshevik revolution and the triumph of Lenin's "dictatorship of the proletariat" in the Soviet Union.
Yet Maltby honors Chekhov's expressed intent that the comic aspects outweigh the tragic. These come to life through several key performers.
Bialock is also strong in the role of an impoverished aristocrat from another estate who is always in need of a small "loan." And Liz Schaller Stone (Charlotta) was a third audience favorite with her portrayal of an eccentric German governess.
Locke gives a convincing portrayal of a self-made man whose wealth has yet to assuage the emotional traumas of childhood poverty. Goff gives a memorable performance as a snobbish and predatory servant who tells a young conquest as he leaves her, "If you'd been a 'nice girl' you wouldn't have anything to cry about."
Murray is excellent as a woman whose tragedies have left her with only a tenuous grip on reality, aware from time to time that disaster awaits, but so bound by habit that she can't avoid it. Watching her work in such an intimate space is a treat indeed. Melinda Maltby likewise gives a touching performance in the secondary role of a mysterious adopted daughter who finds life's opportunities passing her by.