Sunday, January 31, 2016

From Russia with Love: Dmitry Zhukovsky Talks About DIrecting A CHERRY ORCHARD

Dmitry Zhukovsky is opening his production of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov's most beloved play, THE CHERRY ORCHARD on the playwright's 112th birthday, January 29th.

"It's important to strike the right balance between drama and humour. I don't want it to be overly sentimental."

Finding the right tone has always been one of the trickier aspects of mounting the famous play. One of the most notorious "artistic differences" in theatrical history was a debate over precisely this subject. Chekhov gave the play to his friend, the great teacher, actor and founder of the Moscow Arts Theatre, Konstantin Stanislavsky to direct. Chekhov's wife, Olga Knipper, played Ranevskaya, the aristocratic matriarch, spendthrift and protagonist, whose ancestral family estate, including a beautiful cherry orchard is in danger of being sold to pay her family's debts.

The inaugural production, at the Moscow Arts Theatre also opened on Chekhov's birthday. Stanislavsky thought the play was a tragedy. Chekhov said his play was a comedy. The production received mixed reviews and the playwright was not happy with the debut, famously saying, "Stanislavsky has ruined my play."

Zhukovsky hopes to be more faithful to the playwright's intentions. I ask him why he thinks a play from 1904 still connects with contemporary theatre audiences.

"Chekhov poses universal and eternal questions of what it means to be human. At the moment of the play, each character is in an existential crisis. They are all overwhelmed by their own desires, their own issues. It's not about class structure, or old 19th century ideas. We've focused on human emotions and the emotional and intellectual relationships between the characters."

I point out that, in many ways, THE CHERRY ORCHARD centres around a real estate deal, specifically a fraught development deal. Certainly Toronto audiences can relate to that.

"Yes, the family at the centre of the play is trying to encapsulate a moment in their history, which is about to be lost. They have spent their childhoods in this incredibly beautiful pastoral landscape, a kind of Eden. The play is about a about a loss of innocence. In the design of the show, we have really worked to create the beauty and innocence of the place."
Zhukovsky has only been in Toronto for a few years, although he has already managed to start his own company, THEATRUS. This past fall, he presented work at Nuit Blanche. He worked for years as an actor, director and acting teacher in Russia. Russian is his first language. Whose translation is he using?

"Rena Polley, the company's instigator, has used a number of translations to assemble the script." Polley is also playing Ranevskaya. 

His cast includes a number of other well-known Toronto performers, including John Gilbert and Nina Gilmour.
I'm looking very forward to seeing what Zhukovsky and company do with one of my favourite plays.

The Cherry Orchard continues at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, until February 14, 2016. Performances are Tuesday -Saturday at 8;00 PM with matinees at 2:00 PM on Sunday afternoons. Tickets are available at or in person at the box office.

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