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Chekov's "The Cherry Orchard" Comes To Martinez

Hapgood Theater Company presents the classic play at the Campbell Theater beginning Sept. 22.

Hapgood Theatre Company is coming to Martinez with a new production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.”

The Antioch-based theater group, in association with the Willows Theatre, is planning a double run for the new production, presenting it September 22-Oct. 2 at the Campbell Theatre in Martinez, then taking it to Antioch for performances October 6-9 at Hapgood’s home base in the Nick Rodriguez Theater. 

The event marks the second collaboration between Hapgood and the Willows, according to Hapgood artistic director Josy Miller.  Earlier this year, Hapgood’s production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” played the Campbell Theater to strong reviews and enthusiastic audiences. 

Now Miller says she and Willows administrators are talking about long-term goals.  The companies complement each other, she says: the Willows tends to focus on musicals, while Hapgood produces mostly classic plays.  In an interview last week, Miller says the association will produce more options for theatergoers in Martinez and Antioch.  “I think it will be great for both communities,” she said. 

Miller founded Hapgood Theatre in 2006, naming the company for Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood, a professor of Russian languages at Columbia University and associate of the influential theater director, Constantin Stanislavski.  “She was the first translator of Stanislavski’s works, and really a beacon of theater,” said Miller, adding that part of Hapgood Theatre’s mission is to take theater into new communities (Antioch, she notes, had never had a professional company before Hapgood took up residence).  Over the last three years, Miller said the group has doubled its subscriber base.

Miller’s other goal is to present classic theater works.  Hapgood’s first production was Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” directed by Miller; in subsequent productions, she has staged “Death of a Salesman,” “Proof” and the world premiere of a new play, Kait Kerrigan’s “Imaginary Love,” for the company.

“The Cherry Orchard” continues the trend, with a bit of an update.  Throughout the 20th century, Chekhov’s 1904 play was presented in translations by Michael Frayn, Paul Schmidt, Tom Stoppard and others; Hapgood is using a new adaptation by American playwright David Mamet.  “He’s snipped and tightened and Mamet-ized it,” says Miller, “and the dialogue really flows.”  Her production features Bay Area veteran actors Soren Oliver, Sylvia Kratins, Alex Shafer, Heather Kellogg and Brian Rife. 

“The Cherry Orchard” was Chekhov’s last play, and Miller thinks it may be his greatest; in his depiction of a Russian family, the playwright created a microcosm of the human condition.  The play certainly has contemporary resonance; as the story begins, the family prepares to sell its beloved home, surrounded by a cherry orchard, to pay the mortgage.  Yet, although Stanislavski considered it tragic, Chekhov intended it as a comedy.  “It’s very funny, and by the end, all these characters go out into the world in hope,” said Miller.  “I think it’s the most uplifting of his four major plays.”

One thing’s certain – Hapgood’s expanded presence in Martinez is a good thing for theatergoers.  For those tempted to leave town to seek classic works, Miller has a word of advice.  “Stay in town,” she says.  “Save your gas money.”

INFO:  Hapgood Theatre presents “The Cherry Orchard” Sept. 22-Oct. 2 at the Campbell Theatre, Martinez, and Oct. 6-9 at the Nick Rodriguez Theater in Antioch.  Tickets are $30 adults, $25 seniors, $15 students.  $35 Opening Night tickets include champagne reception.  925-219-8545, or www.hapgoodtheatre.org.

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