Anton Chekhov's Cherry Orchard of the Living Dead February 27 & 28, March 6-8, 8 p.m.; March 9, 2 p.m.; $15. Onyx Theatre, 732-7225.
Zombies have long been interpreted in postmodern America as shorthand for mindless consumption in all its forms, but their collective threat recalls other economic associations perhaps better spotted by our European counterparts: peasants literally clawing their way to the top of the social ladder.
Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard of the Living Dead literalizes this aristocratic anxiety, taking 19th century realist drama and turning it into a farcical romp through the land of horror. The savvy historical perspective of the play makes it as intellectual as it is entertaining, but class warfare is the last thing on your mind when taking in Troy Heard’s hilarious adaptation currently showing at the Onyx Theatre.
Like the original Cherry Orchard, this NEA-funded production begins when insolvent heiress Irina Polina (played by Kellie Wright) and her ingénue daughter Marsha (Stacia Zinkevich) return to their family’s estate to find it has been usurped by the ambitious serf Turgenev (T.J. Larsen). The difference here is that the serf is also a mad scientist whose experiments with radiation have created a race of flesh-eating nightwalkers he hopes to eventually turn into cheap labor. His foil, a young university teacher (Brandon Burk), courts the heiress’ daughter as he attempts to unearth Turgenev’s horrific miscalculations.
The play’s humor often relies on double entendre, as when Irina says her previous employer “fell in love with my Puccini.” But incredibly deft situational humor is also paired with witty dialogue to make the show an uproarious experience. From the straight-faced delivery of Larsen (“anything to distract from the death rattle outside”) to Zinkevich’s spot-on naiveté and Burk’s grounded sincerity, the ensemble perfectly complements the tight direction surely delivered by Heard.
But the star of the show is, in fact, the star of the show. Wright’s over-the-hill diva is brash and bombastic without being trite, outrageously hilarious without cracking so much as a smile, gorgeous and loathsome and transfixing.
The only possible quibbles are the awkwardness of the epilogue and a sketchy timeline. Those are overlooked easily enough, though, given the production’s fantastic period-appropriate set and confident humor.