Through September 1
THE ORCHARD (AFTER CHEKHOV) Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre/Shaw Festival
There’s this fascination in the theater with Chekhov, “The Cherry Orchard,” “The Seagull,” all that.
Sarena Parmar saw something which resonated with her in “The Cherry Orchard,” something reaching to her family history in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and her family orchard.
In "The Orchard (After Chekhov)," this a troubled South Asia family which is about to lose its farm because it can’t pay its bills.
Why is never quite clear, although it seems to be something to do with a death and Loveleen’s (Pamela Sinha) long stay in India draining the family coffers.
There are also a lot of family members living off the trees.
The Basrans are in that first generation immigrant story, the elders psychologically tied to the old country, the middle generation caught between new and old and the younger generation trying to fit in and leave behind anything their local contemporaries regard as strange.
So, early on, family members arrive in saris from India and the first thing Annie (playwright Parmar) does is dive back into her jeans, while her aunt Loveleen stays in her sari and the men stick with their Sikh turbans.
Others flick back and forth, with even the names they use bouncing around.
Annie is firmly ensconced in the new country, while working hard on the local gurdwara of her religious roots.
We have Peter (Shawn Ahmed), the scholar, who wants Annie to head back help that nation’s climb from the Third World to the First World.
Remember, this is 1975, only decades after perhaps a million people died as Britain’s Imperial Raj dissolved to India and Pakistan.
Parallel to the Basrans are the long-term locals.
There’s wannabe rich guy Michael (Jeff Meadows) who wants to buy the land before the scheduled auction and cut down the cherry trees and replace them with an RV park.
Paul (Neil Barclay) is a neighboring farmer who appears to grow potatoes in the Okanagan’s fertile soil and gets along with the family.
Charlie (Jani Lauzon) is a symbol of the other Indians, BC’s indigenous people, who were there before the immigrants from England and other places arrived in the vast valley.
In the end, we can hear the echoing chain saws cutting down the cherry orchard on Michael’s land, as the family members make their choices, from Annie staying in the new world and Peter choosing to head back, as does Loveleen.
Gurjit (Sanjay Talwar) rolls up his turban and cuts the hair of his religion and signs up with the local bank.
A key difference between Chekhov and Parmar is that “The Orchard (After Chekhov)” is actually less depressing than Chekhov in a year when the Shaw Festival is probing the festering Canadian history of bigotry and prejudice.
Here, it works as it didn’t in “Oh What a Lovely War,” where it was also dropped onto an existing script.
Perhaps that’s because “(After Chekhov)” revolves around issues far more familiar to members of the audience because they are still surrounded by those issues of immigration and the old elite, particularly in the Toronto area with its hundreds of thousands of “New Canadians.”
For Americans, few know much about the Okanagan and the vast Indian migration, except for hockey players from Kelowna.
At the same time, we are also seeing immigration of people we don’t know much about and this play could be instructive of the issues and the internal tensions of leaving the Old Country and moving to the New.
Parmar, director Ravi Jain and designer Camellia Koo have delivered a strong production, working with a string of strong performances, especially Meadows, Parmar, Kiran and Talwar.
With “The Orchard (After Chekhov),” you don’t have to live with Russian depression.
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