One reason I admire the Russian writer Anton Chekhov is his ability to present life as it is, not as we might wish it to be.
In "The Cherry Orchard," which opens Thursday in Cal State Bakersfield's Dore Theater, Chekhov is masterful in the way he presents his characters' actions -- or inactions -- when they are faced with addressing a problem that affects the future of them all.
The play is set in 1904 during an era when great changes were taking place in Russia's economic and social structure. The aristocratic families were crumbling, forced to sell their vast estates to maintain their standard of living while the peasant class, having been released from virtual slavery some years before, was rising.
I asked the director, Maria-Tania Becerra, to comment on ways her students related to some of the themes in the play, such as the family's financial loss and social changes of the time.
"I don't know if the students can relate to the financial loss as the characters lose the estate due to their lack of action," Becerra said. "I think they can instead relate to the fear the characters have of change."
Acknowledging that doing Chekhov is a challenge, she said "The Cherry Orchard" has been an excellent learning experience for the student cast.
"To master such a literary genius takes years," she wrote in an email. "And though I can't say our students have yet mastered him, they have certainly achieved extraordinary leaps in their understanding of the humanity he was trying to express by his plays."
In this particular play an enormous cherry orchard that is talked about but never seen on stage is the symbol of the Ranevsky family's wealth and past grandeur.
"It is often said that audiences either love Chekhov or hate him," Becerra said. "I think that is because he depicts our conversations in a way that really happen; sometimes in circles, sometimes seeming too long, sometimes waiting for something to happen, that never does ... this is life ... and if one understands that, one can see the genius behind the work of Anton Chekhov."
As the play opens, the matriarch, Lyuba Ranevsky, played by Emily Candia, has just returned from Paris where she has resided for the past five years with a lover who helped her spend most of her fortune. She is so caught up in the past with pleasant memories of her childhood, she can't see the future and wants no changes.
On the other hand, a neighbor, Yermolay Lopakhin, portrayed by Miguel Torres, is eager for change.
A former peasant who had a miserable childhood, he is now wealthy and offers to buy the estate.
After much discussion between the main characters and others -- the cast includes about 15 actors -- Lopakhin ends up buying the estate. Thus the orchard, the symbol of the past, will be destroyed to make way for low-cost cottages for homeowners whose fortunes are rising.
"The Cherry Orchard" continues next weekend with evening performances at 8 p.m. on May 30-31 and June 1 and a matinee at 2 p.m. on June 2.
Graduating seniors show
"Magsimula Ibda Comience (Begin Begin Begin)." That's the title of the CSUB senior art students exhibition whose reception is Thursday evening at the Todd Madigan Gallery.
And upon reading it, I was intrigued with what it might mean. So, not being a linguist, I asked Madigan Gallery curator Joey Kotting to explain it.
Here's what he said.
"Magsimula means 'begin' in Tagalog, which is a language spoken by about a quarter of the Philippine population; idba means 'begin' in Arabic; and comience means 'begin' in Spanish. Hence, begin, begin, begin.
"These are the four languages spoken by our graduating students," Kotting said. "Not that all the students are all proficient in these languages, but at least one of the students uses the language."
The cultural history of each student is quite often reflected in their work, he added, which coincides with the goals of the art department faculty to help those majoring in art to think of their personal background as an asset as they go forward into the ever-expanding global culture.
Thirty students are participating in the show, which includes installation art, animation, performance art, sculpture and painting, as well drawing and video. The exhibit can be seen during the gallery's usual hours, 1-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, through June 14.
Los Angeles-based contemporary artist John Williams has been asked to judge the student exhibit and will present the best of show award, The George, named for the late George Ketterl, a professor of painting at CSUB.
Williams will present the award as part of a lecture on his own work and practice at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Albertson Room, adjacent to the gallery.
BCT's plans for 2013-14
Kenneth Whitchard, artistic director of Bakersfield Community Theatre, has announced the playhouse's 2013-14 season, which is made up of four main stage shows and three youth theater productions.
The selections were approved by Edward French, executive director, and members of the board: Drew Hallum, Christian Frederickson, Karynn Whitchard, Jessica Aleman, Janice French, Pat Kerley and Bruce Tisler. At present, only the month each show will be performed is available. Specific run dates will be announced later, Whitchard said.
August: 26th Annual One Acts Festival
Short plays written by Tammy Lynde, Porter Jamison, Mike Bedard, Jeannie Hart, Norman Colwell and Christian Frederickson.
October: "Holka Polka," a good witch sets out to save "Fairy Tale Land" with the help of the Big Bad Wolf and Cinderella.
November: "BCT Live: The Variety of Bakersfield"
Highlights the talent of some of Kern County's finest performers -- vocal, dramatic, dance and instrumental.
December: "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"
In this comic Christmas tale a couple struggling to put on a church Christmas pageant are faced with casting the Herdman kids -- probably the most inventively awful kids in history.
February: "Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963"
BCT's annual salute to Black History Month, this is the story of four children who attended the 16th Street Baptist Church and how they share their hopes and dreams against the backdrop of the civil rights movement.
March: "Steel Magnolias"
Set in Truvy's beauty salon in Chinquapin, La., where all the ladies who are "anybody" come to have their hair done. A memorable play filled with hilarity to balance the inevitable reality of our mortality.
July: "The Weird Wild and Wonderful Days of School"
Every day young adults are dealing with the challenge of growing up. This story follows young people as they tackle the everyday challenges of who they were, are and will become.