Liminal Spaces for Desettlement: “The Orchard”

The Making of THE ORCHARD Virtual Experience from Igor Golyak on Vimeo.

Presented by Arlekin Players Theatre & (zero-G) Lab
Conceived, adapted, and directed by Igor Golyak
Based on The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, as translated by Carol Rocamora 
With new material by Igor Golyak 
Robotics designed by Tom Sepe
Music composition by Jakov Jakoulov
Emerging technologies design by Adam Paikowsky
American Sign Language direction by Seth Gore
Translations by Carol Rocamora
Full creative crew credits are HERE
Featuring Jessica Hecht, Juliet Brett, Darya Denisova, Elise Kibler, John McGinty, Nael Nacer, Mark Nelson & Ilia Volok
Mikhail Baryshnikov as Anton Chekhov and Firs

June 16 – July 3, 2022
The Orchard is a hybrid piece of theater and can be seen in two formats:
Live & In-Person
Baryshnikov Arts Center, NYC
&
Virtual Experience, Online
(zero-G) Lab

The show runs just under 2 hours, with no intermission.

Review by Kitty Drexel

This review is of the virtual performance of The Orchard on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

New York & Online — The Arlekin Players are no strangers to the digital theatre. Their productions of chekhovOS / an experimental game/, Witness, and State vs. Natasha Banina were wildly successful. chekhovOS / an experimental game/ and Witness were both live and audience-interactive in ways that the theatre community hadn’t seen before. These shows navigated the new frontier of digital theatre by showing artists and audiences what is possible. 

They were also super cool to watch. 

So, it is with great regret that I say Arlekin Players’ The Orchard doesn’t work. 

Yet. 

The Orchard will work. It needs more time for workshopping, for artistic gestation. It has all the necessary elements for brilliance such as an excellent cast and ingenious creative design. The combined elements need more balancing, more tweaking. Such tweaking will only come with time and rehearsals. So many simultaneous in-person and online technical rehearsals. 

The Orchard says on its website, it’s “a journey through a beautifully rendered, three-dimensional virtual property that has been abandoned and is in foreclosure.” There, Audiences explore magical rooms in the online building where they “uncover echoes of a past life, now lost, including Chekhov’s letters, memories, and ultimately the play, live, in progress at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.” 

Our audience had approximately 15 minutes to play in the online forum. It wasn’t enough time. There was too much online content, and too many videos. I got as far as the room with Chekhov videos. Someone in the chat mentioned a room with a train. There was more and the online audience wasn’t allotted enough time to see it all. Either pare it down or give the audience time to view the content after the show. 

Ronin the Robot and a wee four-legged robot resembling a Boston Dynamics dog added elements of whimsy and perspective to The Orchard. Ronin served coffee and stood in for a beloved bookshelf which was fun. These acts are aside from the point of featuring a steeply expensive, massive factory production arm in one’s production. 

Ronin is vaguely reminiscent of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey if Hal was neutered of personality and rendered voiceless. The Cherry Orchard is about the Gayevs’ choices. Ronin can only show us what he’s told to show us. We don’t know if he has any choice in the matter.

A screenshot from the production. Supertitles are sometimes part of the production. Bottom, center of the image are two buttons for switching between the main feed and Ronin the Robot.

The audience was invited to toggle between the Ronin and the main feed from a streaming camera capturing the live, in-person production performed at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. Ronin’s camera was often pointed at a blank space that caught the dramatic poignancy of nothing.

The robot dog was perfect. No notes. 

The Orchard is performed in English, Russian, French, and American Sign Language. Sometimes it is translated into English supertitles. Sometimes it isn’t. The experience of misunderstanding or not understanding the text is intentional. The Orchard exists in a liminal space so we can understand the characters’ desettlement.

Good art can require more time (and budget) than is available. Even when a production is professional and off-Broadway, what we see on the stage might not be the final product. The Orchard is one of those productions. Should an audience member not find the immediate satisfaction from the online performance of The Orchard as is, please be patient. Arlekin Players is working on it. 

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