The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] 'Cherry Orchard': The story of 'lovely mess of a family'

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : June 26, 2024 - 18:06

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LG Arts Center production of LG Arts Center production of "The Cherry Orchard" (Studio AL, LG Arts Center)

In Simon Stone’s Korean take on Anton Chekhov’s classic “The Cherry Orchard,” the world-renowned director shifts the setting to contemporary Seoul.

Here, aristocratic siblings Lyuba Ranevsky and Leonid Gayev have become heirs to a crumbling chaebol family named Do-young (Jeon Do-yeon) and Jae-young (Son Sang-gyu). The Song family business is on the brink of bankruptcy, but Jae-young is inept and Do-young is in denial.

Enter Hwang Doo-sik (Park Hae-soo), a modern incarnation of Lopakhin, a wealthy merchant from a lower social class, reimagined as a self-made businessman. Hwang attempts to repay a childhood debt by saving the Song’s business, but his efforts prove to be futile.

LG Arts Center production of LG Arts Center production of "The Cherry Orchard" (Studio AL, LG Arts Center)

This is the story of a “lovely mess of a family.”

In a startling moment, a drunken Do-young kisses her daughter’s love interest in front of the family, confessing it was a momentary lapse. Jae-young talks to an old record player pulled out from storage, while their cousin Young-do makes outdated jokes.

Only the adopted eldest daughter struggles to save the company. The younger daughter feels like her mother's caretaker and her lover, once the family tutor, now advocates for an anticapitalist revolution.

Despite its tragic undertones, Stone infuses the play with humor. The dialogue, written by Stone and translated by dramaturg Lee Dan-bi, seamlessly fits the Korean context. The actors' relentless delivery ensures that the comedic moments shine.

LG Arts Center production of LG Arts Center production of "The Cherry Orchard" (Studio AL, LG Arts Center)

It’s the cast that brings vibrant life to the complex characters, making their flaws endearing. The production's magic lies in its ability to transform characters who are pathetic, foolish, snobbish and incompetent into figures who are lovable, vulnerable and ultimately understandable.

Jeon channels Chekhov's Lyuba with effortless swings between whimsical charm and hidden sorrow. Park's Lopakhin exudes charisma with a performance marked by hollow triumph and lingering insecurities. Son captures Gayev's sensitivity enriching his ostensibly foolish character

The working-class characters, portrayed by the housemaid and the secretaries of the Song families and Hwang, form their own romantic triangle, adding a subtle yet palpable layer of tension and highlighting class conflicts.

LG Arts Center production of LG Arts Center production of "The Cherry Orchard" (Studio AL, LG Arts Center)

Set designer Saul Kim's white-toned mansion, with its glass facade, allows the audience to peer into the chaos. The triangular structure, with steep stairs on one side and a gentle slope on the other, manifests emotional turmoil and escalating crises.

In the second act, a blizzard of black paper confetti against the mansion creates an impressive spectacle. The confetti, continuing to fall like fluttering gray snow, foreshadows a looming bleak future.

The family’s enterprise is sold off, their house demolished and the beloved cherry orchard cut down. The siblings are misfits in the new world, yet they find hope in small, miraculous ways -- like Jae-young riding the subway for the first time and working at an LP bar. The preceding comedy makes the ensuing tragedy even more poignant as the audience contemplates the siblings' future.

“The Cherry Orchard” runs until July 7 at LG Arts Center, with plans for a world tour starting at the Adelaide Festival in Australia in March 2025 with the cast reprising the same role.