BY ROBERT DIGITALE
Upheaval comes in “The Cherry Orchard,” Santa Rosa Junior College’s latest theatrical production.
An aristocratic Russian family in 1904 is broke and about to lose the estate that its ancestors have owned for generations. After a long absence, they return to the land shortly before it will be sold to pay off the mortgage. They seem ill prepared to do much more than beg relatives to help save the estate. Its radiant, white-blossomed cherry orchard becomes a symbol of all they have lost.
Playwright Anton Chekhov sets this tale in a time of great change. The Russian serfs had been freed decades earlier after two centuries of slavery, but many remain destitute. The Russian Revolution is little more than a decade away. It sounds like a mash-up of 1960s social unrest and 2008 financial meltdown.
The cast and Director Leslie McCauley do an admirable role of bringing this tale to life. But “The Cherry Orchard” is a play of ideas, not actions, and Chekhov doesn’t make it easy to get emotionally invested in his characters. Should we care about the woman owner who has long been absent but now laments what the loss of the estate will mean to her? Or the businessman, the son of a serf, who has grown wealthy in matters of finance but still feels unworthy? Or the estate owner’s daughter who loves a student radical that wants to be “above love” as he works for social progress? Yes, we may see bits of ourselves in all these people, but do we care about their fates?
Nonetheless, the play does give insight into the beautiful but tortured soul of Russia. In it we catch glimpses of the tragedy that was serfdom and of the economic and social upheaval that followed its collapse. Today, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is once more in a time of uncertainty. Once more we watch to see what the country will become.
Bravo to the cast members, including Molly Umholtz, Grace Kent, Reba Crawford-Hayes, Ron Smith, Bill Davis, Devin Winter, Craig Mason, Dana Hunt, Jessica McAlister, Timothy Jones, Julie Schuldt and Alex Sterling.
Performances will continue at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit SRJC Theatre Arts.