By Edward Kliszus
The ORCHARD at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, NY, is offered live or live-streamed.
It is digitally presented in a remarkably sophisticated and richly creative manner. Adapted from Chekov’s play The Cherry Orchard, the story centers around the return in 1904 to Russia of aristocrat and landowner Madame Lubov Ranevsky (Jessica Hecht) from a stint in Paris. Ranevsky must sell her estate, which includes a prized cherry orchard, because she cannot repay the debts accrued against it.
An adaptation of the original Chekhov work
In this adaptation by Igor Golyak, Anton Chekhov (Mikhail Baryshnikov) emerges in the plot as a key figure in the story. The versatile Baryshnikov also plays the part of Firs, the Ranevsky’s long-time and now elderly servant. Chekov’s original intentions were to portray the collapse of the aristocracy and the rise of the bourgeoisie are intact as the descendants of former serfs Yermolai Lopakhin (Nael Nacer) ultimately win the auction to purchase the Ranevsky estate.
Transformed by the Magic of Technology
While Chekov’s play holds a firm place in the literature, through the magic of technology, the story can now be presented in a cutting-edge complex dreamscape of seemingly incongruent elements achievable only with the contemporary arts of live-streamed multi-media drama. It is an intellectually and sensuously stimulating artistic experience presented in a manner unavailable on typical physical stages. Those participating remotely worldwide can see closeups and angles only available through the sharp cinematic eyes of the creative team.
A Chelsea Property for Sale
The play begins by announcing an auction and advertising a tour of a Chelsea building featured as ready for a full renovation. Might this be the original site for the Baryshnikov Arts Center? We enter the building, noting its empty, spacious rooms and staircases.
Chekhov appears dressed smartly in a topcoat, hat, and umbrella. He is speaking in Russian with English subtitles. He speaks of his tuberculosis.
Floating clouds, flowers, and butterflies are a feast to the eyes.
The cast is dressed in period garb set on a stage centered by a large robotic arm described as a bookcase. An agile robotic pet, a Unitree Go1 enters and entertains on cue. The main stage is a child’s nursery imbued with gentle blue light with ground surfaces covered with blue feathers. White light is delicately styled to enforce the dreamscape character of the setting. Bluish snow gently glides, descending.
Marvelous digital stereo sound and effects. Interactive, manipulatable tools are provided to perform actions on the screen dreamscape.
The admixture of live and digital audience participation exemplifies the evolution of this powerful art form. Videography and audio engineering amplify the story’s import and denote in part the seemingly flawless entwinement of early 20th and 21st-century accouterments.
As the story temporarily unwinds in the background, the charming Mme. Ranevsky interjects a commercial for selling the Chelsea building. She opines on the estate’s cherry orchard and digresses into a cherry cake recipe. She delightfully entreats us to appreciate family, notes the pressing passing of time, and transitions back to details about the Chelsea property: fireplaces, window air conditioners, etc.
It’s a return to the dreamscape consciousness of superimposed images, revolving dimensions, and a simple, repetitive avant-garde musical accompaniment layered over sounds of wind, characters dancing and gesticulating. Participants streaming from home are briefly overseen and projected on the back screen. The planets Saturn and Jupiter delicately float above the stage and its center of activity.
Lights brighten, and a stark reminder of the estate’s sale by auction is evoked. They are at the center of the solar system, planets and stars abound and are alit, traveling through time and infinity. Trofimov (John McGinty), dressed in modern garb, speaks through American Sign Language (ASL).
A soliloquy in French follows; it is perhaps an echo of Mme. Ranevsky’s French forays, accompanied by a cello in the style of J. S. Bach’s solo cello suites. The scene explodes into a series of errors on a giant computer screen.
Outer space evaporates. A bibulous, vulgar man enters with a flashlight and helmet with a top-mounted film camera, asking for directions. He lifts a book from the floor and reads the Russian text out loud. He continues, drinking from his flask. He bellows a drunken song, seemingly to mock the troupe. Chekov angrily excoriates him in Russian.
Lightning and explosions, the theater audience is now watching, visually superimposed over the setting.
The cast rebounds, Russian disco music and Chekhov is sweeping the floor to clear a path. The auction offers are posted live. Dancing, the robotic pet demonstrates his dexterity, card tricks, and cartoonish folk music.
The work is a masterpiece of drama, stagecraft, technology in multiple and emerging fields, costuming, lighting, sound, music, 3-D, robotics, and more. Be sure to meet the creative team here for full bios.
The cast returned to well-earned standing ovations.
Runtime: About 2 hours with no intermission
A new adaptation of The Cherry Orchard
Produced by Arlekin Players Theatre and (zero-G) Lab
In association with Cherry Orchard Festival, Groundswell Theatricals, and ShowOne Productions
Conceived, adapted, and directed by Igor Golyak.
Producing Artistic Director Igor Golyak.
Executive Producer Sara Stackhouse.
Based on The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, as translated by Carol Rocamora with new material by Igor Golyak.
It features Jessica Hecht as Ranevskaya with Juliet Brett, Darya Denisova, Elise Kibler, John McGinty, Nael Nacer, Mark Nelson & Ilia Volok.
Mikhail Baryshnikov as Anton Chekhov and Firs.
Meet the fabulous cast here.
Meet the gifted, industrious, creative team here.
Through July 3, 2022, at the Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 W 37th St #501
New York, NY 10018
For tickets, click here or type https://www.theorchardoffbroadway.com/