The Orchard (After Chekhov)
Landing Page: Pamela Sinha plays Loveleen the matriarch of the Basran family. Photo by David Cooper
Pictured Above: The Basran’s gather in the Orchard. Photo by David Cooper
It’s summer and it’s Shaw Festival time. For years summer has meant Niagara-on-the-Lake, dinner and a show, or a matinee and dinner, gelato and walking through Simcoe Park which is lovely on a warm evening in July or August. The heat of summer always meant The Court House theatre was open and home to some of the edgier more artsy plays of the Shaw. This year is different and not in a bad way!
Without a lot of fanfare when the Playbill for Shaw’s 2018 Season came out it was announced that 3 of the 14 plays Shaw was hosting this year would be shown at the Jackie Maxwell Theatre. This great little venue is located behind the Festival Theatre and shares a courtyard with it. For the last 3 years, it has been the location of some of the stand out shows of the season including The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures or IHO and The Dance of Death which starred powerful and classic actors including Jim Mezon and Fiona Reid, two of my very favourites.
Now hosting a much different set up – in the round and looking down - just like the Courthouse – the Jackie Maxwell Theatre has been reconfigured to give us the same “up close and personal” experience. This year’s kick off play is called The Orchard (After Chekhov) and it is very different from what we have experienced in this venue before.
Written by Serena Parmar and directed by Ravi Jain, The Orchard takes a step back in time to the 1970’s and looks at the struggles of a new immigrant family to Canada. What is even more unique is that Serena also plays one of the lead characters Annie, the young daughter of Loveleen, played by Pamela Sinha.
The plot follows the 1903 version of Anton Chekov’s, The Cherry Orchard, with a unique Indo-Canadian twist. The Basrans, are a visible-minority in 1970’s B.C. not Russian aristocracy. The place is the Okanogan Valley in British Columbia which was discovered in the early 1900’s to be an excellent location to grow fruit.
Loveleen is the matriarch of the Basrans family, she is returning to Canada after five years in India to the family estate she’s neglected since she left. Mourning the drowning of her son she is also a widow and while in India she met and stayed with a man who unfortunately was only using her for money.
Now she has returned to the family farm finding it in debt and in danger of being lost. Her daughters Annie (Parmar) and Barminder, played by Krystal Kiran, have been running the orchard with their eccentric uncle Gurjit (Sanjay Talwar).
Micheal, played by Jeff Meadows is an opportunistic businessman who grew up with modest means and has plans to save the orchard and turn it into a trailer park. The matriarch is still in a state of depression and when approached by Micheal, can’t make a decision to save the farm.
There are a host of other characters in Parmar’s semi-autobiographical script that make this play truly fun. There’s Yash, played by Andrew Lawrie, ever the player, Yash’s flirtatious nature has him wooing more than one lady. And Kesur, played by David Adams is Loveleen’s father and Annie’s grandfather. Adams transforms himself into an aging Indian man and sells the roll to the audience without question.
The outcome is not a happy one for the Basran’s and part of the hard knocks lesson of coming to another country to build your future. There is much reference to the former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau whose Multiculturism Act encouraged Immigration during the 1970’s.
What Parmer does do is honour the Native origins of the land who’s first owners and settlers were here long before the fruit growers. Charlie, a farm hand played by indigenous actress Jani Lauzon, reminds us before and after the show who really were the first nations to inhabit the land.
The Orchard (After Chekhov) is delightful and fresh, the stage a little crowded at times with the large cast and props that consist of dirt and rugs. It all comes together to tell a great Canadian story. You should go!
The Orchard (After Chekhov) runs til September 1st, for tickets visit www.shawfest.com
By Jenifer Cass