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  • Kirsikkapuisto (The Cherry Orchard) by Anton Chekhov
  • Wade Hollingshaus
Kirsikkapuisto (The Cherry Orchard). By Anton Chekhov. Directed by Mika Myllyaho. Translated by Eino Kalima. Kansallisteatteri, Helsinki, Finland. 12 April 2014.

Beginning with its production of Uncle Vanya in 1914, Finland’s Kansallisteatteri (National Theatre) has had a complicated relationship with the plays of Anton Chekhov. The Kansallisteatteri was founded in 1872, roughly sixty years after Tsar Alexander I’s military took Finland from Sweden and formed it into a Grand Duchy within the Russian empire. During the time that it was under Russian rule, Finland harbored an understandable amount of antipathy toward the Russian government; when it came to Russian artistic and cultural influences, however, the Finnish people were more welcoming. One example is Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, which was first produced in Russia in 1904 and produced by the Kansallisteatteri twelve years later. Early-twentieth-century Finland could empathize with the depiction of an aristocratic family’s struggle to survive the onset of capitalistic industrialism. With both this production and that of Uncle Vanya, the Kansallisteatteri was building a place for Chekhov in its national repertory. Then, in 1917, Finland declared independence from Russia, and attitudes toward Russian theatre (and Russian culture in general) dramatically reversed. Chekhov was not performed again on any Finnish stage until 1947, when the Kansallisteatteri mounted a production of The Three Sisters. The reputation that the Kansallisteatteri had begun establishing for Chekhov early in the twentieth century was reinstated at mid-century, and that reputation continues now to thrive well into the twenty-first century. The 2013–14 production of The Cherry Orchard, directed by (arguably) Finland’s premiere theatre-maker, Mika Myllyaho, who is the artistic director of the Kansallisteatteri, ensured this legacy.

Since practically any Finnish production of Chekhov draws on the troubled history between Finland and Russia, Myllyaho could have chosen to play it safe with his recent production; he could have opted to stage a traditionally modernistic production of the play and let the historical weight of the event carry the show. Fortunately, he chose to do otherwise. Myllyaho seemed to recognize the significance that Chekhov’s original narrative has historically had for Finns, and he used this as the backdrop for a reinterpretation that focused its critique on the neoliberal socioeconomic forces that currently vie for dominance in present-day EU Finland. He accomplished this through a number of strong interpretive choices—foremost of which, a revision in the organization of Chekhov’s script and an innovative juxtaposition of technology onstage.

Chekhov’s play focuses on the negative effects that shifting economic forms have had on one aristocratic family at the end of the nineteenth century, headed by landowning matriarch Lyubov Andreyevna. The narrative measures these effects as experienced by the family’s immediate and extended members, and Myllyaho’s production followed suit. But by making some minor shifts to the order of the scenes in the play, Myllyaho pulled the primary focus away from Lyubov and placed it on her daughter, Anya. He established this clearly very early in the play when the first words spoken onstage were a monologue by Anya and not the Lopakhin/Dunyasha scene that begins Chekhov’s original. By drawing attention away from the parent and placing it on the child, Myllyaho invited the audience to think less about a then-present and more on a now-present. Specifically, the socioeconomic critique of the play invited the audience to reflect less on the modernist financial situation that characterized Finland at the turn of the twentieth century, and more on the neoliberal financial situation that characterizes the early twenty-first century. [End Page 113]

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Emmi Parviainen (Anya, center) and others of the household attempt to stave off the inevitable with a night of revelry in The Cherry Orchard. (Photo: Pasi Ylirisku.)

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Paavo Westerberg (Pyotr Trofimov), Tiina Weckström (Lyubov Andreyevna), Ismo Kallio (Firs), and Emmi Parviainen (Anya) in The Cherry Orchard. (Photo: Pasi Ylirisku.)

[End Page 114]

Assisting in sustaining this critique throughout the production was a powerful juxtaposition between what we might call modernist and postmodernist...


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