George R.R. Martin once said, “History is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging”. It is a quote which sums up the relationship between Sarena Parmar’s contemporary The Orchard (After Chekhov), and Anton Chekhov’s turn-of-the-century The Cherry Orchard.
As with Chekov’s classic tragicomedy, The Orchard is a story twisted up and with emotions wrung out, emphasizing the changing circumstances of rural Canadian life.
Loveleen, the landowning matriarch of the Basran family, has just returned home from India due to the summons of her teenage daughter Annie. The family orchard is failing, with the bank due to foreclose in mere months. Her younger brother Gurjit and cousin Barminder struggle to keep things afloat but lack the knowledge and skill of their sister.
But Loveleen is not interested in the farm, but in the lavish lifestyle and freedom she felt in Bombay. Around her, as the family home falls into the hands of the son of a former picker, she watches as the family strays further and further from what they once knew and steps uncertainly into the future.
In this Arts Club Theatre Company production, the cast is uniformly great in striking a nice balance between the Chekhovian mood swings and modern comedy.
As Barminder, Adele Noronha proves once again why she is one of the city’s hottest talents as her emotional presence as a mostly secondary character is second to none. Laara Sadiq manages to imbue the potentially unfeeling Loveleen with humanity, while Parm Soor brings a rock-solid and grounded humour as Kesur. Standouts are also seen in Kai Bradbury as Yebi, and Yoshie Bancroft as Donna, who flip between buffoonery and heart in a particularly heartbreaking scene.
Director Jovanni Sy has created a strong multi-sensory drama that smells like a hometown, and Marshall McMahen’s set design is simple yet familiar. Barbara Clayden’s costume design underscores the family’s changing allegiances to both country, culture, and station; the palette faded, worn, and practical in a sharp departure from the riotous life of colour of Loveleen’s clothes from India.
The Orchard (After Chekhov) shows a Canadian family in flux. Immigrants no longer, yet they are forced once again to break with their past to have a future. Some cannot make the break while others are broken by it, highlighting an experience that is so commonly Canadian and yet rarely seen on stage.
Hopeful, melancholic, and bitter, The Orchard (After Chekhov) is a snapshot of where the Canadian experience lies now, our nature unchanged, even as the world continues to turn around us. Go see it.
The Orchard (After Chekhov) by Sarena Parmar. Directed by Jovanni Sy. An Arts Club Theatre Company production on stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre (2750 Granville St, Vancouver) until April 21, 2019. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.