By STEPHANIE OTTEY
Anton Chekhov is one of the most studied and revered dramatists in the history of theater (and literature, for that matter), so it’s no surprise that Youngstown State University should include one of his most praised pieces in its current season. Showcasing a beautiful set design, rich costumes and a dedicated cast, “The Cherry Orchard” is just a sampling of the high quality theater that YSU is sure to bring us this year.
This highly anticipated 2012-13 season comes full of contemporary selections such as “Rent” and “Dog Sees God,” so the classic “The Cherry Orchard,” which was written in the late 1800s and first premiered in 1904, offers a nice balance.
On the surface, “The Cherry Orchard” is about a wealthy Russian family struggling with bankruptcy. Readers and viewers will find much more than that in the subtext, though, as Chekhov offers a commentary on social change and humanity along with this already fascinating foundation.
Though the script is more than a century old, this production feels fresh and light under the direction of Matthew Mazuroski. His ideas are clear and executed by a team of talents.
The setting is designed so that it looks like a fuzzy memory. White, gauzy fabric covers the furniture and hangs from the ceiling to create a billowing canopy that is not unlike the aesthetic of a cherry blossom. Designer Todd Dicken and his crew display a floor painted to look remarkably like marble, and thus transform the black-box space.
The sound design aids in creating the setting as well. Andy Ryder chooses sounds that enhance the world created on stage without inhibiting the performers vocally.
Jane Shanabarger’s costumes are lush and expensive-looking, and the makeup designs of Brittney Grant and Matt Malloy also are attention-grabbing. Makeup technicians Theresa Leonard and Claudia Gage surely have much to do with the success of the design.
The finest example of that design can be found on Cheney Morgan in this production. The 20-something actor is transformed into an octogenarian as Firs. Even from the very first row, his skin is believably aged with freckles, and his complexion is dry and ashy. Morgan lives up to the standards of his elderly facade with a dedication to his role that is a joy to watch.
The rest of the ensemble cast is equally dedicated.
Tony Genovese gives heart to Yermolai Lopakin, the self-proclaimed “hick” turned millionaire who advises the mistress of the cherry orchard and its estate.
Kelly Sullivan, playing Lovey Ranevskaya, is elegant and poised in her role.
Mark Warchol creates a Peter Trofimov that is delightfully oblivious and passionate, and Jessica Schmidt is his sweet, budding love as Anya.
Carly Magnuson makes a firm Varya, Connor Bezeredi is a spectacularly petulant Leonid Gaev, and Patrick Hobby, donning a magically squeaky shoe courtesy of Shanabarger, gives another high-energy performance.
Josh Green, Rebecca Anderson, Ashley Whited, Cleric Costes, Eric Shonk and Alex Samuels all bring colorful characters to the stage as well.