Dallas — The Classics Theatre Project’s debut, Dallas playwright Ben Schroth’s new adaptation of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, running through July 14 at Trinity River Arts Center. The production is directed by TCTP artistic director Joey Folsom with an ensemble cast led by Emily Scott Banks and Taylor Harris. The company is professional, using some Actor’s Equity contracts, and plans to produce two other (TBA) works in its first season.
Playwright Ben Schroth and director Joey Folsom took time out of their busy rehearsal schedule to answer a few questions for TheaterJones.
TheaterJones: What about The Cherry Orchard do you feel speaks to today’s audiences?
Joey Folsom: Everything. The amount of symbolism that can be laid on top of The Cherry Orchard goes on for days. There is a timeless commentary on class, society, social obligation, privilege, love, loss, and more. The Cherry Orchard serves all demographics and offers all of them something: a human connection and truth to everyone.
Ben Schroth: I think the climate is usually the same for us humans. Not good. Struggle. Change. How do we cope? What methods for continuing are valid and which are farce? How do we face huge changes? The family in The Cherry Orchard comes home and then leaves again. That's all the action. But the vast stress on the human hearts during these few months at home again! The humor. The futility and the grace. It's a complete picture of life in transition.
JF: We as Americans are also fascinated by Russia.
The Cherry Orchard has been described in many ways. Anton Chekhov described his work as a comedy. The first director, Constantin Stanislavsky, called it a tragedy. How is this production walking the line between those dual assertions?
BS: When working on the script, I put analysis of this kind—a global picture of the art work—aside. My fundamental concern was the structure of the language. Verbs and commas. The small particles that form a play.
JF: I have embraced both opinions of the piece. There is truth in both. The comedy needs to be there to allow the drama to land and vice versa
BS: And both shine through the text when the show comes to life—all that comes of its own magic—IF the language is transparent and spontaneous.
Any time a theatre company tackles a classic text, audiences start expecting (or dreading) some new concept or twist. How is TCTP handing Cherry Orchard?
BS: I'm so not interested in gimmicks. That is not what this production is about. Basically, as best we could, everyone tried to put on fresh eyes—as if this play was written yesterday. I stood godfather for the absent playwright. We started from there and it grew and matured like all plays do. We discovered it afresh. I hope that fresh language facilitated that new sense of exploration. I feel certain he would like the nips and tucks we made to fit this text perfectly to this phenomenal cast.
Speaking of that, how has it been working with a cast full of heavy-hitters like Emily Scott Banks?
JF: It's wonderful. I get to focus on the forest and they get to be their own tree. Then we grow together.
How does it feel as a playwright for a new company to not only be using a script from a local writer, but that they are doing so with their inaugural production?
BS: I am completely conscious of the gift I have been given. I take a big responsibility to dare to fiddle with one the cornerstone of our literature. I know there are other playwrights hereabouts who deserve similar opportunities. The trust and nurture I feel from TCTP—Joey and this cast especially—is honestly overwhelming. I was in the right place at the right time with the right set of skills and the right amount of chutzpa. We'll see what audiences have to say.
What does TCTP offer audiences in DFW?
JF: No other company has a mission in DFW, that I'm aware of, has a mission that is dedicated specifically to classic works. Almost every major theatre market has a professional company that does that, but DFW doesn’t. TCTP fills that gap. I aim to program works that have relevancy here and now and make them as accessible as possible to the audience.