REVIEW: "The Cherry Orchard," - Young Theatre, Cal-State Fullerton

“…A Delicate Balance of Comedy and Tragedy”

Chekhov is arguably the second-greatest dramatist in history. In this, his most biographical of plays, Chekhov, who died six months after the play premiered in 1904, meditates on the last days of czarist Russia through the story of a feckless, aristocratic family whose ancestral estate must be auctioned to pay off the mortgage.

Then, adding to that painful turn of events is more distressing news. Their treasured cherry orchard is to be cleared for a housing development of summer cottages for the new middle class. Humor and hope dominate Chekhov’s twilight elegy to his treasured past, as translated by Paul Schmidt, and pointedly directed by Maria Cominis (“All My Children,” “Desperate Housewives,” “One Life to Live”).

The play is a delicate balance between "subjectively painful" and "objectively comedic" perspectives on life, and the ability to link the catastrophic with the trivial in a dramatic form, erasing the boundaries between comedy and tragedy.

In Director Cominis’ interpretation of "The Cherry Orchard," she reminds theatergoers that the century-old-plus play is at its heart a comedy, and she illuminates her scenes with broad, bittersweet and warmly wry comic moments.

Topping a formidable cast, Isobel Beaman gives a stately, luminous performance as the foolishly extravagant, debt-ridden Ranyevskaya, which she invests with grace and dignity, avoiding any fluttery or frivolous approach.

A middle-aged Russian woman, she is one who has been an aristocrat all her life, and cannot see life except from that perspective. She has faced tragedy many times in her life also, or rather has tried to escape from it. Her first name, "Liubov," means "love" in Russian, and she seems to exemplify love with her generosity, kindness and physical beauty...and sexual nature; she is the only character in the play with a lover. But even when talking about her disastrous love affairs or the pain of her child's death, she is ever correct and elegant. Her feelings of love very often cloud her judgment. She also seems unable to control her spending habits, another sign of her disconnection from her present status as an impoverished aristocrat.

The resourceful Miguel Torres portrays the pampered and self-centered Gayev, Ranyevskaya’s poetically inclined windbag brother. It is inspired casting—Mr. Torres brings a breezy, indifferent playboy flavor to the role. He has several intriguing verbal habits, frequently describing tricky billiards shots at odd and inappropriate times. He will also launch into overly sentimental and rhetorical speeches before his niece, Anya, stops him, after which he always mutters "I am silent" at least once. Gayev is a kind and concerned uncle and brother, but behaves very differently around people not of his own social class.

Bernard Hefner is a blustery and practical Lopakhin, a wealthy merchant and former serf who rose from the peasant class to become the new landowner, mainly defined by a no-nonsense practicality and energy that makes him unable to sit still when he senses work is waiting to be done. His grandparents were in fact owned by the Ranyevskaya family before freedom was granted to the serfs. Lopakhin is always extremely self-conscious, especially in the presence of Ranyevskaya, perpetually complaining about his lack of education and refinement.

Darby Sorich is lovely as the wistful, unfulfilled Varya. Jilted by the insecure Lopakhin, she doubts that he will ever propose to her. Varya is the hard-working, responsible type with a high work ethic, but