'Cherry Orchard' finds a perfect setting: New Ulm

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2011 - 2:17 PM

Luverne Seifert and friends are bringing Chekhov back to the countryside.

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From left: Darcey Engen, Sarah Myers, Luverne Seifert, Eriq Nelson and Nathan Keepers in Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard."

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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There is something so right about taking Chekhov out to the country. Luverne Seifert agrees, and he's doing something about it.

Seifert, a director and actor who heads the B.A. Theatre Performance program at the University of Minnesota, is bringing "The Cherry Orchard" to his childhood stamping grounds in southern Minnesota. Performances this week will be at the historic John Lind House in New Ulm. Five Twin Cities actors and four from New Ulm will join Seifert in the production, which uses a script condensed by Sarah Myers of the Augsburg College theater department.

This project grew from two desires: Darcy Engen, who directs theater at Augsburg and is married to Seifert, wanted to do a Chekhov play in an actual house; Seifert wanted to do a play in the New Ulm-Sleepy Eye area, where he lived until he was in seventh grade.

"We chose 'Cherry Orchard' because it deals with the issue of foreclosure and we thought that would resonate with communities where farms have been foreclosed on," Seifert said.

Chekhov focused on a family that is losing its estate, including its famed cherry orchard. For much of the play, oddball characters stew in sweltering heat and fumble with ineffective plans to save the farm. Chekhov wrote it as farce, though it was treated as tragedy in its first production -- a dichotomy that distinguishes Chekhov's genius.

Historic house

The Lind House was built in 1887 by Minnesota's 14th governor. Seifert said the 75-minute production will weave through the front lawn, to rooms on the first floor and then out again to the large Queen Anne porch.

"In the third act, there will be this huge polka party with the Sleepy Eye concertina club playing," said Seifert, who guesses he might be able to squeeze in an audience of 35 people per show.

Seifert's first choice of location was the farm home in which he grew up outside Sleepy Eye (his dad still lives there).

"I remember people coming over and sitting on the front porch and playing accordions and drinking beer on a hot summer night," he said. "That's the image I think about when we're doing this play."

Ultimately, the Lind House offered more room and a better location.

"We've had great support from the people in New Ulm," Seifert said. "There's a community theater there, and they helped us set things up. And we're using four community actors from the area."

For the production, Seifert and Engen also were able to secure an Artists' Initiative grant from the State Arts Board.

In addition to Myers and Engen, Seifert tapped his friends Sarah Agnew, Nathan Keepers and Eriq Nelson to make the trip. Agnew and Seifert worked last fall in "The 39 Steps" at the Guthrie; Keepers is an old buddy from Theatre de la Jeune Lune and Nelson taught performing arts for many years at the Interact Center.

"They were excited about it," Seifert said. "A lot of it was timing and we found this window. Those are important actors who can connect and interact with community members in that site-specific setting."

  • THE CHERRY ORCHARD

    What: By Anton Chekhov; adapted by Sarah Myers. Produced by Luverne Seifert.

    When: 7 p.m. Wed., 7 & 9 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. next Sun.

    Where: Historic John Lind House, 622 Center St., New Ulm, Minn.

    Tickets: $10-$15, at www.brownpapertickets.com

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