The UniArt production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD SEQUEL, written and directed by OBIE Award Winner Nic Ularu.
It is eighteen years after Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard” and his characters are struggling with the rain, the mud, and the grand innovating ideologies of the Russian Revolution. In this production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD SEQUEL everything is lost in a turmoil of booze and blizzard.
Nic Ularu’s plays were performed at KO Theatre Festival, MA, Theatre South Carolina, Sibiu International Theatre Festival-Rromania, Teatrul Foarte Mic, Bucharest-Romania, “O” Teatret – Sweden and National Theatre of Constanta – Romania. Besides writing and directing his plays Nic Ularu has extensive design credits in USA, Sweden, Northern Ireland and Romania. Nic was the head of scenography at the National Theatre of Bucharest and has taught scenography in Romania, Germany, Sweden, England, Italy, Denmark and Hong Kong. Recent credits includes: 2003 OBIE award for the Talking Band’s Painted Snake in a Painted Chair; 2005 co-designer of the exhibit World Stage Design, Canada; 2007 lead designer and curator of the USA National Exhibit at the Prague Quadrennial Exhibition of Scenography.
The Cast of THE CHERRY ORCHARD SEQUEL features Robyn Hunt, Robert Hungerford, Richard Jennings, Paul Kaufman, John Patrick Driscoll, Zach Hanks, Steven Pearson and Patrick Kelly.
Set Design is by Carl Hamilton and Craig Vetter, Costume Design is by Kimi Maeda, Lighting is by James Hunter, Sound Design is by Walter Clissen, and the Production Stage Manager is K. Dale White.
Out of Chekhov’s Orchard, Into History’s Frying Pan
By NEIL GENZLINGER
The New York Times
The title of the new play at La MaMa E.T.C., “The Cherry Orchard Sequel,” may set off the cringe reflex: isn’t that the kind of thing theater types think up during boozy cast parties? But the work, written and directed by Nic Ularu, is a sparkling surprise, helped along by fine performances all around.
Mr. Ularu, a theater professor at the University of South Carolina, moves Chekhov’s characters ahead 18 years. And if “The Cherry Orchard” found the aristocratic turn-of-the-century world fading away, “The Cherry Orchard Sequel,” of course, catches Russia at a moment of much more abrupt transition.
Lopahkin (Richard Jennings) still lives on the estate he bought when Madame Ranevskaya (Robyn Hunt) was forced to auction it. (Unless you’ve seen “The Cherry Orchard” recently, reading a plot summary is a prerequisite; Mr. Ularu assumes a fair amount of knowledge.) The hapless Epihodov (John-Patrick Driscoll) is still stumbling around, and the idealistic Trofimov (Paul Kaufmann) has latched on to the Bolshevik cause.
There are also two unexpected characters — the dead, it turns out, don’t stay dead — as well as a new kid on the block, a bully named Boris (Zachary T. Hanks) who comes by the estate to make sure everyone is on board the Communist bandwagon.
Mr. Ularu has a little fun with the premise (for instance, we find out why Epihodov is always tripping over things), but he also has an agenda. Born in Romania, Mr. Ularu, now in his 50s, seems to be no fan of the Soviet era, and it’s no accident that Mr. Hanks’s frightening Boris puts you in mind of classic film Nazis. In Mr. Ularu’s vision, the arrival of Communism squashes whatever glimmers of hope the social liberation explored by Chekhov offered.
Commendably, though, Mr. Ularu knows he can push his parlor game only so far, and wraps it up quickly, in less than an hour and 20 minutes. “This is one possible way the characters could have lived out their lives,” this brevity seems to say. “Now go have a good time imagining your own.”
by SAM THIELMAN
Equal parts pastiche and Commie commentary, Nic Ularu's "The Cherry Orchard Sequel" takes an absurdly presumptuous premise -- the story begun in Anton Chekhov's masterpiece continues! -- and creates a strange world uniquely its own, haunted by the encroaching Red Army, a nostalgic ache for the time before the Bolsheviks and, of course, ghosts. Walking into the theater, the biggest surprise is that Ularu has chosen to tilt at windmills. Walking out, the biggest surprise is that he's managed to fell one.
The beginning of "The Cherry Orchard Sequel," set at the rise of Stalin 18 years after the end of the 1904 Chekhov play, throws things into disarray immediately. The first character to appear is Grisha (Patrick Michael Kelly) -- the deceased son of the aristocratic Ranevskaya (Robyn Hunt) -- who never actually appeared in Chekhov's play. Firs (Steve Pearson), Ranevskaya's elderly manservant, speaks to Grisha, but wasn't Firs doddering and near death in the other story? Isn't Grisha dead?
Yes and yes, in fact. They're both dead, and enjoying post-death existence as ghosts who haunt the house purchased by the former serf Lopahkin (Richard Jennings), an action that signaled both the beginning of Communism and the end of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard."
Ularu fleshes out his observations on Russian life under Stalin through the characters: Former serf Lopahkin is now as despised by the party as aristocratic Ranevskaya and is thus in danger.
Epihodov (John-Patrick Driscoll), once a clerk for Ranevskaya, bears witness to the inevitable chain of events: The Communists arrive in the form of Comrade Boris (Zachary T. Hanks), an amoral gangster who is a stone's throw from the KGB agents to come. Petya Trofimov (Paul Kaufmann), the impassioned leftist intellectual, returns as a Communist soldier and tries to subvert the Red Army's assault on Lopahkin and the rest of his adopted family. But the play sadly reveals that no one likes intellectuals, not the Tsar, and not Stalin.
The Romanian Ularu is nothing if not surefooted, but there are times during "The Cherry Orchard Sequel" when you might wish for an encyclopedia or at least a handy copy of "The Plays of Anton Chekhov." His reliance on the master text is a little tiring, even though he is actually building to something and needs to stand on Chekhov's shoulders to reach it.
At the end of this play's predecessor, Chekhov had created a careful tableau of impractical dignity and comfort around the lovable, silly denizens of the Gayev estate. He told us that -- with the rise of the uncultured Lopahkin --there was no way these lives could last, dropping the curtain to spare us the view of the fall.
Now, years after the fall and in the midst of the tentative renewal (with Vladimir Putin in charge, the very tentative renewal), Ularu refuses us that kindness, chronicling unsentimentally what happened to Russia during Stalin. It's hard to look at, but Chekhov was sadly predicting the future.
Ularu, on the other hand, uses Chekhov as a fixed point around which to sketch his outrage at history. It's timely, especially with history on the verge of repeating itself under Putin, but more than that, it's just good, enigmatic storytelling.