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Cherry Orchard

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A: Anton Chekhov Pf: 1904, Moscow Pb: 1904 Tr: 1908 G: Tragicom. in 4 acts; Russian prose S: Russian estate, 1900s C: 9m, 5f, extrasMadame Ranevskaya, born into the aristocracy but the widow of a simple lawyer, now finds herself in financial difficulties. She returns to her country estate from Paris with her daughter Anya. Because of her spendthrift behaviour, the heavily mortgaged estate will have to be auctioned by the bank to pay for outstanding interest. Lopakhin, who grew up as the son of a serf on the estate, is now a wealthy businessman and urges Ranevskaya to sell her famous old cherry orchard as plots of land for holiday homes. Ranevskaya is horrified at the idea and refuses, just as her brother Leonid Gaev will not consider taking employment with a regular income. The family desultorily debate various possibilities of financial salvation, including an attempt to get an old aunt to come to the rescue, but most of their energy is devoted to preparing for a ball. On the day of the ball the auction takes place, and Lopakhin buys the estate. Ranevskaya bursts into tears, takes the money her aunt has sent to cover the mortgage interest, and uses it to travel back to Paris. Her brother will take the offered job after all. The house is closed up, and the sound of an axe felling the first cherry tree is heard.

A: Anton Chekhov Pf: 1904, Moscow Pb: 1904 Tr: 1908 G: Tragicom. in 4 acts; Russian prose S: Russian estate, 1900s C: 9m, 5f, extras

On the one hand, this last play by Chekhov is rightly described by the author as a comedy. Madame Ranevskaya and her family are laughable in the way that they continue to maintain their aristocratic attitudes to ownership and work in a world that is fast leaving them behind. On the other hand, Chekhov sees clearly how the world is changing, how capital now rules in place of privilege. While this to some extent anticipates the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 when the aristocracy lost its last vestiges of power, it also suggests Chekhov's sadness at the loss of stability and beauty, symbolized by the cherry orchard. As Trevor Griffiths says, ‘the play is objectively comic and subjectively painful’. The play is also remarkable, because, even more so than in Chekhov's other pieces, hardly anything happens in terms of dramatic action. Stasis rather than action becomes a possibility for modern theatre, to be most notably realized in Waiting for Godot. Originally premiered by Stanislavsky (who played Gaev) at the Moscow Art Theatre, The Cherry Orchard is, together with The Three Sisters, one of the most performed Russian plays. Significant recent productions include Peter Brook's in Paris in 1981 and Peter Stein's in Berlin in 1989, and it has been translated by Frayn (1978) and adapted by Van Itallie (1977), Trevor Griffiths (1978), and Mamet (1985).

Reference entries

Anton Chekhov (1860—1904) Russian dramatist and short-story writer