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See Natchez cherry orchard tonight

Natchez Little Theatre’s fourth production of its 65th season is the final play of one of the fathers of modern theatre, Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, adapted to a Natchez setting.

“The Cherry Orchard” was written over the course of several years and completed in 1903. Chekhov sent the play to the Konstantin Stanislavski of the Moscow Art Theatre and it opened on Jan. 17, 1904, Chekhov’s last birthday.

Chekhov intended this play as a comedy, and it does contain some elements of farce, but Stanislavski, the founder of method acting, insisted on directing the play as a tragedy. Since that initial production, directors have had to contend with the dual nature of the play. Natchez Little Theatre’s production has been adapted by NLT’s Artistic Director Layne Taylor, who also directs the production.

The play is transformed from a vast Russian estate in the early 1900s to a vast estate just outside of Natchez in the “Roaring 20s.” “The Cherry Orchard” concerns a well-to-do Natchez woman and her family as they return to the family’s plantation, which includes a large and well-known cherry orchard, just before it is to be auctioned to pay the past due taxes.

While presented with options to save the estate, the family essentially does nothing, and the play ends with the estate being sold to the son of a former sharecropper and the family leaving to the sound of the cherry orchard being cut down. The story presents themes of cultural futility, both of the aristocracy to maintain its status and the bourgeoisie to find meaning in its newfound materialism. In reflecting the socioeconomic forces at work, not only in Russia at the turn of the 20th century but also in the United States, the play reflects the forces at work around the globe in that period. These forces include the sinking of the aristocracy as the middle class rose after abolition of serfdom in Russia and the abolition of slavery in this country and the fall of the planter aristocracy.

Since that first production at the Moscow Art Theatre, this play has been translated and adapted into many languages by the world’s most famous playwrights and produced around the world, becoming a classic work of dramatic literature. Many of the world’s major directors have directed “The Cherry Orchard” and the play’s influence has also been widely felt in dramatic works by many including Eugene O’Neill, George Bernard Shaw and Arthur Miller. The world’s most famous actors and actresses have eagerly performed in this masterpiece of modern theatre.

Natchez Little Theatre’s production stars a talented cast including Marianne Raley and Nance Hixon in their NLT debut, with Tyler Brown, Lee Dellinger, Arden McMillin, Moe LeBlanc, Morgan Mizell, Christina Givens, Dwight Williams, Royal Hill, Don Vesterse and debuts by Emily Hixon and Mario Radford.

“The Cherry Orchard” assistant directors are Lee Dellinger and Morgan Mizell. The sets, lighting and sound were designed by Layne Taylor; the construction by Don Vesterse; and the painting of the cherry orchard by Morgan Mizell and Sharon Groover.

The show opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and runs through Saturday evening. There is a final Sunday 2 p.m. matinee Sunday. All tickets are $15 and should be reserved in advance even if you are a member of NLT by calling 601-442-2233 or 1-877-440-2233, or you can purchase your tickets on-line at www.natcheztheatre.org.

At 7 tonight the curtain will rise on a benefit performance of “The Cherry Orchard” as a fundraiser for two closely linked organizations, the Historic Natchez Foundation and Natchez Downtown Development Association. These benefit tickets are $10 each with all proceeds going to these two worthy non-profit organizations.

Come early for a reception with cocktails and refreshments at 6 p.m. hosted by the two organizations. You may pre-purchase tickets for the benefit performance at Historic Natchez Foundation, 108 S. Commerce St. (601-442-2500) or by contacting Natchez Little Theatre at 319 Linton Ave. in Natchez.

 

Anna Rife is the secretary of Natchez Little Theatre and the financial officer at the Historic Natchez Foundation.

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