Kirby Theater transforms into pre-revolutionary Russia for 8 p.m. performances ThursdaySaturday and a Sunday matinee.

October 28, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

The Cherry Orchard
In Amherst's production of The Cherry Orchard, acting and
design work by students and faculty takes center stage.

In the early morning hours of a crisp spring day, at the turn of the 20th century, sunlight creeps across the branches of blossoming cherry trees in the orchard of the Ranevskaya family’s estate.

So begins Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, a four-act play about one family’s effort to save their home and celebrated orchard, presented by Amherst’s Theater and Dance department Thursday, Oct. 29, through Sunday, Nov. 1.

Setting Amherst’s production apart from other revivals of Chekhov’s classic play is what director Ron Bashford calls “intimate seating.” Constructed in a theater that usually seats an audience of nearly 400, The Cherry Orchard set features specially built seats for 65 spectators placed directly on stage.

The play also includes live sound effects. Jaime Sandel ’17 plays violin for scenes requiring musical accompaniment, and actors and backstage crew produce live-action sound as needed. “We want the audience to feel as close to witnessing something as possible,” Bashford says.

Breathing Life into Chekhov's Characters

Chekhov’s plays are propelled by the inner desires of his characters, an idea that Bashford says sets Chekhov apart from the more plot-driven playwrights that came before. The Cherry Orchard script, in particular, makes numerous references to characters’ pasts, and hints at their inner, and often subconscious, motivations.

Hampshire College student Ginny Chesson ’16, who plays the family matriarch Lyubov Ranevskaya as part of her senior portfolio in acting, says taking her character’s past into consideration has been the biggest challenge of bringing her to life on stage: “She has had so many things happen to her and so many different people in her life. There is always something to remember about her… I'm dealing with that by writing a character biography and drawing pictures of events in her life.”

Johnathan Appel ’16, who plays the role of the merchant Yermolai Lopakhin, says he’s focused on simply “playing moments” and “allowing the audience to paint the emotional picture on that character themselves.”

Appel is currently taking Bashford’s course “Plays in Play: The Ensemble and the Playwright,” which offers students an investigative journey into Chekhov's life and work. “Looking at this play from both an academic and performative standpoint has really helped me understand the intent of the author more clearly,” he says. “The biggest thing I’ve learned has been how to simply be in the moment and react without thinking too far ahead.”

The Cherry Orchard opens Thursday, Oct. 29, and continues through Sunday, Nov. 1, in Kirby Theater. Tickets are free, though all seats have been reserved as of this writing. A waiting list will be started 45 minutes before each performance, and any unclaimed reservations will be distributed just before showtime.