News & Articles

Cherry Orchard - Artistic Director Martha Lavey's Preview

by Martha Lavey

We are delighted to welcome you to the Upstairs Theatre at Steppenwolf for our production of Anton Chekhov's Cherry Orchard. Our production is directed by ensemble member Tina Landau from a new translation by Associate Artistic Director Curt Columbus and features ensemble members Amy Morton, Francis Guinan, Yasen Peyankov, Rondi Reed and Bob Breuler. To produce one of the great plays from the world's canon of modern dramatic literature with such a strong corps of Steppenwolf artists is an exhilarating prospect. Adding to our excitement in presenting this work to you is our decision to produce Cherry Orchard in our Upstairs Theatre. For the first time, we are inviting our subscribers into the Upstairs space as a part of their subscription season. While many of our Steppenwolf patrons have been attending productions in the Upstairs Theatre since the space was inaugurated in 1993 with our production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, we are aware that for many of you, this production of Cherry Orchard will be your first visit to the Upstairs space. For our first-time visitors to our Upstairs Theatre, we welcome you to the pleasures of an intimate, flexible space. What can you expect? What is the added value we discern in including an Upstairs production as part of your Steppenwolf experience? To answer the question, we need only refer to Steppenwolf's own production history. We have occupied our current theater since 1991. We achieved, in the design of the Downstairs Theatre, a premiere production space — a relatively intimate theater (500 seats) with a producing capacity to rival much larger houses, including Broadway's finest theaters. In the Downstairs Theatre, you have seen a string quartet apparently floating above the stage space (A Clockwork Orange), a street awash with rain (Three Days of Rain), life-sized cars enter the space (I Just Stopped By To See The Man). You have watched characters cross a tow-bridge over the audience (The Berlin Circle), characters descend into the grave (Everyman), characters emerge from the voms underneath the audience (Hedda Gabler) — scant example of the myriad of amazements that our Downstairs Theatre offers to our artists and audiences. But a long, strong part of Steppenwolf's history of producing — the ground upon which our reputation was established — was achieved in theaters ranging in house size from 80, 144 and 211 seats. Houses that offered little wing space, little to no-fly space, theaters without traps or voms — theaters that featured, as their predominate virtue, a close, hot connection between the viewer and the staged event. We are delighted to have as a principal resource the world-class producing space of our Downstairs Theatre. Let it rain! Make it fly! Bring in the cars! All of these capacities participate thrillingly in the production of delight, in the profound joy of theater's transformative genius. But we trust, utterly, to the parallel genius of theatrical intimacy. We have, we believe, the finest actors in America walking our stages, encouraged in their performances by the finest directors. We invite you into the Upstairs space to show off a little — to offer you a ringside seat to their work up-close and personal. We give you Tina Landau, one of the most respected directors of contemporary theater, in a room that is uncompromisingly apparent, that is transparently present - a room that will deliver, into your lap (and, we hope, into your heart), a play that has burned, for the past century, as the inscription of human longing and the heartbreak of change. We give you a group of actors, led by members of the Steppenwolf ensemble, who attack the play with ferocity and truth-seeking passion that is the signature of our theater's acting style. And we offer you these actors, joined by their Chicago colleagues, in the bare floor of our Upstairs Theatre, coming and going in immediate and intimate proximity to our audience. The point is, we don't ever want to abandon the pure and simple spirit of our beginnings to the increased sophistication of our artists and audiences. We challenge ourselves to maintain the best of both worlds. And we invite you into the arena of that proving ground.