The opening show of LaSalle Players season is "Summerfolk". It is a 1904 play by Maxim Gorky, in a new 1999 version by Nick Dear. This tale of Russia just prior to the upheaval of the revolution, features several families summering at their dachas. It has been seen as the inheritor of "The Cherry Orchard" because these are the very summer homes that are envisaged being built when the orchard is cut down. However the inhabitants are not the cheerful happy ones on holiday that are expected at the end of Chekhov's play. They are the children of peasants, the new bourgeoisie, educated and now with the luxury of being able to philosophize at their unhappiness, to indulge in the stifling ennui as oppressive as the heat, rather than wondering where the next crust was coming from. In Gorky's terms, this is a world of "false hopes and unfulfilled promises". The dachas have been subdivided into summer colonies, where the newly idle rich pass time in unhappy romantic alliances. In common with Chekhov's characters, they still dream about a better life. In contrast to Chekhov, Gorky had both a harshness and a cynicism to his writing style. Each performer creates a memorable character. Directors Thomas Haynes and Margaret Hayes inject humor into these proceedings and cast 18 talented students in these roles plus many extras. The lighting design is by Mrs. Elissa Pensa Cerros with tech director Mr. Stephen Zukauskas. The show runs smoothly with the stage managing skills of Ryan Sweeney while the gorgeous period costumes are by Mr. David Cabral from Providence College and the unit set is by the Theatre Production class.
The directors utilize the entire theatre, having the performers enter from various locations. The play has strains of longing and despair but they are tempered with comic touches. This talented high school cast contains some wonderful performances and acting abilities. I will touch on a few of them in this review. Some of these relationships include the disillusioned and overworked doctor, Kirill Dudakov and his dour wife, Olga. They have five children and she is constantly complaining but they get a couple of romantic kisses during the proceedings. Samuel Stone plays the doctor while Allison Unger plays Olga. She is the comic relief of the show which is needed in some oppressive scenes and her gossiping and catty comments about the other characters is hilarious, showing off her character acting skills, stealing some scenes. Sam's funniest line to her is when he calls her a cantankerous cow. Vlass, an amiable, foolish young man, loves an older woman, Maria Lvovna. In contrast to the pettiness of their friends, their love seems to be genuine and Matthew Kilduff and Gabriella Verducci give touching portrayals. Maria is the political voice of women in the show and all the men show disdain for her. Vlass' sister, Varvara is married to a boorish lawyer, Bassov. She is one of the central characters of the show. Excellently played by Alison Russo, she shows her growing dissatisfaction with her marriage, wanting to break out of the cocoon he has kept her in. Varvara is stifled by him and confused about what to do. Subtly woven through the trivia of these lives are big themes, one of them being feminism. The play's women are the true revolutionaries and a genuine challenge to Russian complacency. At that time in history women were subjugated to men and having them stand up for themselves in this show is a remarkable demonstration of Gorky's forward thinking. Luke Doyle is dynamic as Bassov. His character gossips about her brother and Maria as well as putting down his wife to others. The eternally hopeful poet of the group, Bassov's sister Kaleria is wonderfully played by Gabrielle Whitney. She has many dramatic moments but her reading of her poems, "Edelweiss" and "Autumn" are laugh out loud moments.
Gabi's real life brother Colin finally plays a younger character.(He usually plays older character roles.) He plays the witty Zamislov who is chasing after Yulia, the beautiful blonde hair Hannah McDonald who is one of his actresses in the show they are to be putting on during the summer. Hannah plays a femme fatale who uses a gun in one scene to scare her overbearing husband, Pytor Suslov. He is a drunken lout who constantly puts her down, does shoddy work on bridges and he tries to avoid his rich uncle,Semyon who has an eye for the young ladies. Beautifully played by Sean Walsh, he elicits many laughs with one of his best lines is "I am so old that I am almost dead." Maria's feisty daughter Sonya is excellently played by Victoria Szlashta who has a touching scene with her mother when her character softens towards her after learning Vlass and her mother love each other. While the celebrity writer, Shalimov is played by Nicholas Cancelliere who joins the summerfolk for this season and who Varvara has had a crush on after reading his books. Some of them make fun of his snooty behavior. However the real life author she meets is a big disappointment to her. Pavel is another person who has a crush on Varvara and their is a traumatic event that takes place near the end of the show. The dawdling away of their days is brought to a remarkable and intensely dramatic conclusion, as a series of crises unfolds at the end of a picnic in the woods. Suddenly, all of the emotions and feelings they have only talked about, assume control over their lives and change them forever. Varvara has the courage to defy the old traditions of Russia and Yulia longs for that in her life. So for a look back at how things were in Russia in the early 20th Century, be sure to catch "Summerfolk" at LaSalle Academy before it is too late.