The Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre is my favorite theater at the Shaw Festival. Its intimacy and ability to draw in an audience in so many different configurations is so interesting and oftentimes perfect for the shows selected to perform there. Sarena Parmar’s exceptional “The Orchard (After Chekhov)” is playing there this year, and it is simply extraordinary.
“…an incredibly important story of humanity and the fear of losing everything…”
Parmar’s spin on Anton Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard” is based on her own childhood in British Columbia and follows a Punjabi-Sikh family, the Basran’s, who is fighting to maintain ownership of their family orchard in the Okanagan Valley. Although the story is set in 1975, the play’s focus on the Canadian immigrant experience couldn’t feel more timely, especially for this politically aware American tourist.
The show begins and ends with a transformative audio interlude, wiping away any thoughts or distractions from the audience’s minds and moving us right into the story. The cast, directed by Ravu Jain, is comprised of both Shaw debutees and veterans, all of whom create an endearing and sometimes frustrating family.
The fresh-faced Parmar, in addition to penning an incredible play, stars as Annie, one of the daughters of the farm. She’s incredibly well-spoken and serves as the family peacekeeper, trying to keep everyone from fighting with her mother, who she recently brought home.
Shawn Ahmed’s Peter, a neighbor to the Basrans, is another standout performance. While he initially comes off as a nerdy neighbor, we quickly learn of his quick wit and strong political opinions, which intrigue Annie and challenge the rest of the family.
Krystal Kiran is my other favorite performance as Barminder, battling her family’s potential loss of the orchard, frustrating finances and a seemingly almost-fiance. Not to mention her desire to feel more connected to the ladies in her community, toying with the idea of switching to a new religion in order to fit in.
I could go on and on about the actors, all of whom were purposeful and strong in their characters, but the real star of the show is the story itself. It’s heartwarming, funny and devastating at times, but mostly, it’s frighteningly familiar and relevant to the current political climate. Parmar has written a fresh adaptation that’s sure to grow legs after its run at Shaw, already pegged for a 2019 run in Vancouver.
“The Orchard (after Chekhov)” is an incredibly important story of humanity and the fear of losing everything. If at all possible, take a journey north to open your mind and meet the Basrans. You’ll be glad you did.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
“The Orchard (After Chekhov)” runs through September 1 at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre at Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-the-Lake, Ontario. For more information, click here.