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Theatre Journal 52.3 (2000) 409

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Performance Review

The Cherry Orchard

The Cherry Orchard. By Anton Chekhov. Ankara State Theatre, Küçuk Tiyatro, Ankara, Turkey. 14 October 1999.

Anton Chekhov has always been popular in Turkey. The National Library catalogue contains eighty-six different translations of his works, many of which form a staple part of the English and Russian Literature curriculum at both the under- and postgraduate levels. His three major plays, The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, and Three Sisters, are frequently performed in major theatres in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. A recent writer on Chekhov, Özdemir Nutku of Ege University in Izmir, has explained that the reason Chekhov is so popular in Turkey is that playgoers respond to his balance between "subjectively painful" and "objectively comedic" perspectives on life, and his ability to link the catastrophic with the trivial in a dramatic form, erasing the boundaries between comedy and tragedy.

On paper, it seemed this revival of The Cherry Orchard, which marked the opening of the Ankara State Theatre's fiftieth season, was deliberately designed to reinforce this tragicomic message. It was directed by the American Christopher Martin (who previously worked on two other productions, The Grapes of Wrath and Camino Real). It also marked the return to the stage of the actress Heps*en Akar, who had become something of a specialist in playing tragicomedies in a forty-year career with the State Theatre that included major roles in plays by Lorca, Chekhov, Strindberg, and Tennessee Williams.

This particular Cherry Orchard, using a recent (1998) translation by Ataol Behramoglu, began with a notable coup de théâtre. At the back of the stage, two large wooden double doors opened to reveal the actors silhouetted against a harsh yellow light, shabbily dressed and carrying suitcases. This provided a neat foreshadowing of the end of the play, when lack of money forced Madame Ranevskaya (Akar) to sell her house to Lopakhin, and ultimately leave her beloved cherry orchard for good.

The notion of a family in decline was emphasized by Gül Emre's set design, featuring a stark, semipermanent structure of bare wooden boards and peeling mahogany panels, flanked by clusters of steel poles, representing trees in the orchard. An old wooden rocking horse stood forlornly near the doors at the back of the stage. Perhaps the children had enjoyed playing with it when they were growing up; now it was simply a piece of old junk, neglected by everyone and cluttering up the play area.

Throughout this production, Ranevskaya and her aristocratic circle of friends endeavored to preserve a facade of respectability by indulging in their favorite pastimes--hunting, fishing, and having parties. However, they soon became aware of the increasing futility of their endeavors. This shift was clearly indicated through sudden changes of emotion; the festive atmosphere of a ball scene at the beginning of act 3 was dispelled as Ranevskaya abruptly stopped dancing and stared moodily at the audience. On seeing her expression, Anya (Eylem Yildiz) burst into tears. By contrast, Lopakhin (Cahit Öztüfekçi) became more and more self-confident as the action progressed. At first, he appeared embarrassed in Ranevskaya's presence, shifting uncertainly from foot to foot as he delivered his lines in a quavering tone. However, he almost jumped for joy as he described how he had bought "the most beautiful estate in the world!" On hearing this, Ranevskaya sank into a chair, apparently overcome with emotion.

But the audience was not encouraged to feel sorry for her. Throughout the revival, Ranevskaya and her circle seldom engaged in face-to-face conversation. Many of their lines were delivered directly to the audience, in the form of soliloquies. Any physical contact--for example, kisses or hugs--was kept as brief as possible. Ranevskaya herself spent much of the production sitting queenlike in a chair at the center of the stage. As the head of the family, she was accustomed to having everyone else pay their respects to her and saw no reason to change despite her straitened social circumstances. The only character who refused to observe such...


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