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Theatre Review: After the Orchard at the National Arts Centre

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The new play After the Orchard opened the English Theatre season at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and runs through October 1. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

AFTER THE ORCHARD by Jason Sherman is loosely based on Chekhov's THE CHERRY ORCHARD. Although Mr. Sherman follows Chekhov's story line, the play lacks both the poignancy and humor of the original. Chekhov's plays are character driven and his characters multi-level and complex. With a few exceptions, the characters in AFTER THE ORCHARD are remarkably one-dimensional. It could be the actor, it could be the director, but in this case it's the play. When I get home and find that most of my notes are on the lighting and the set, something's wrong.

The plot revolves around a family of three brothers, their families and their widowed mother and their decision about whether or not to sell the family summer camp. It was built by their father and the purchaser is an old friend turned real estate developer. There you have it. It's pretty clear what's going to happen, and only the missing complexities of family relationships and character could keep it interesting.

The production, on the other hand, is lovely. Designer Christina Poddubiuk has created an open wooden cottage flanked by tree-painted scrims and a backdrop of a lake surrounded by mountains. The slatted walls shift easily from interior to exterior scenes.

Jock Munro's lighting is magical. The falling of a slow northern summer twilight, the clouds, the reflections in the lake and the patterns of sunlight on the wooden deck levels are all wonderfully subtle and effective. Peter McBoyle's sound, particularly the pre-show music, adds a great deal to the production.

As for the company, there are a few strong performances. Nicola Lipman is good as Rose, the matriarch of this dysfunctional clan. Peter Froehlich as her brother Len is wonderfully funny and human. He's well aware that Chekhov called his plays comedies. Patrick McManus manages to find some humor in the bookish David and the character is more fully developed than the other two brothers. The rest of this obviously accomplished cast seems shackled to the one-note characterizations dictated by the script.

Director Marti Maraden has done a nice job of staging the play. However, the piece would have been more effective if she'd been able to help her actors find more depth and sub-text in their roles.

Chekhov plays are classics for a reason. They can be enjoyed and admired, but seldom if ever adapted successfully. Adaptations usually end up, like a character in AFTER THE ORCHARD says, as, "one of those new plays where nothing happens and everyone's depressed."

On a scale of one to five the NAC English Theatre production of AFTER THE ORCHARD gets three and two-thirds Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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