The Cherry Orchard

If you’ve always thought of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard as a tragedy, not the “comedy in four acts” its playwright intended, you can blame the Brits, says Classical Theatre Company’s executive artistic director, John Johnston, whose company is producing the play. “Our filter for Chekhov is largely British,” he says. “They have a dry sense of humor and a culture of the stiff upper lip, so productions through the ages have largely sucked the funny out of it.”

His aim is to change that. The Cherry Orchard is Chekhov’s last play, premiering in 1904, and examines the lives of a wealthy family whose estate is about to be sold at auction. (Downton Abbey viewers are already in the arena for The Cherry Orchard’s themes.)

“I think this is Chekhov’s finest play,” says Johnston. “The characters in it are very real. They’re flawed, but Chekhov doesn’t so much criticize them as he does observe them. To me, it’s a little like the Titanic. The ship’s hit the iceberg and it’s sinking, but here’s this family, essentially rearranging the deck chairs.”

The intense disparity of the gap between the haves and the have-nots, the wariness of change and the complexities of human relationships, as well as Chekhov’s brisk writing should resonate with today’s audiences, says Johnston. “There’s certainly a lot of pain, but there’s also the idea that this is an absurd existence, and you can laugh at that.”

There are preview performances at 8 p.m. April 8 to 9. Regular performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Through April 26. Classical Theatre Company — Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose. For information, call 713‑963‑9665 or visit classicaltheatre.org. $20.
Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: April 9. Continues through April 26, 2015

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Holly Beretto