Interesting experience recently, seeing The Orchard (trailer) at the Trenton Film Festival. In the story, filmed in real time, six actor friends get together for a weekend to prepare an improvisational performance of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard—the world’s most performed play. Excellent score by Towering Inferno.
The movie script is something of a mashup of Chekhov and Pirandellos’ Six Characters in Search of an Author, but with its own absurdist excesses. (I’ve seen Six Characters and have forgotten it in its entirety.) With the heavy regional English accents and scenes where everyone talks at once, I missed a lot, but that seems the intent.
The private arguments over which actor should play which part suggest viewers are glimpsing intimate scenes that expose jealousies, rivalries, and personal histories. But, really, they’re scripted. After a while, the story moves seamlessly into Chekhov. And out again. Some of the non-AC scenes could be 20 percent shorter, but the cast is terrific in their actor and Chekhovian personae. As the synopsis says, after this weekend, “Will they ever be friends again?” Good question.
Personally, I think Wallace Shawn’s Vanya on 42d Street (1994) was easier to watch—another movie about trying to mount a Chekhov play, but The Orchard is a worthy effort suitable for specialty audiences with a taste for fine ensemble acting.