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The Cherry Orchard (Вишнëвый сад or Vishnevyi sad in Russian) is the last play by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. It opened at the Moscow Art Theatre on 17 January 1904 in a production directed by Constantin Stanislavski. Although Chekhov intended it as a comedy, and it does contain some elements of farce, Stanislavski insisted on directing the play as a tragedy. Since this initial production, directors have had to contend with the dual nature of the play.
The play concerns an aristocratic Russian woman and her family as they return to their family estate (which includes a large and well-known cherry orchard) just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage. While presented with options to save the estate, the family essentially does nothing and the play ends with the sale of the estate to the son of a former serf; the family leaves to the sound of the cherry orchard being cut down. The story presents themes of cultural futility – both the futile attempts of the aristocracy to maintain its status and of the bourgeoisie to find meaning in its newfound materialism. In reflecting the socio-economic forces at work in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, including the rise of the middle class after the abolition of serfdom in the mid-19th century and the sinking of the aristocracy, the play reflects forces at work around the globe in that period.
Since the first production at the Moscow Art Theatre, this play has been translated and adapted into many languages and produced around the world, becoming a classic work of dramatic literature. Some of the major directors of the world have directed it, each interpreting the work differently. Some of these directors include Charles Laughton, Peter Brook, Andrei Serban, Eva Le Gallienne, Jean-Louis Barrault, Tyrone Guthrie, Giorgio Strehler and Ajitesh Bandopadhyay.
The spelling of character names depends on the transliteration used.
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There were several experiences in Chekhov's own life that are said to have directly inspired his writing of The Cherry Orchard. When Chekhov was sixteen, his mother went into debt after being cheated by some builders she had hired to construct a small house. A former lodger, Gabriel Selivanov, offered to help her financially, but secretly bought the house for himself. At approximately the same time, Chekov's childhood home in Taganrog was sold to pay off its mortgage. These financial and domestic upheavals imprinted themselves on his memory greatly and would reappear in the action of The Cherry Orchard.
Later in his life, living on a country estate outside Moscow, Chekhov developed an interest in gardening and planted his own cherry orchard. After relocating to Yalta due to his poor health, Chekhov was devastated to learn that the buyer of his former estate had cut down most of the orchard. Returning on one trip to his childhood haunts in Taganrog, he was further horrified by the devastating effects of industrial deforestation. It was in those woodlands and the forests of his holidays in Ukraine that he had first nurtured his ecological passion (this passion is reflected in the character of Dr. Astrov, from his earlier play Uncle Vanya, whose love of the forests is his only peace). A lovely and locally famous cherry orchard stood on the farm of family friends where he spent childhood vacations, and in his early short story "Steppe", Chekhov depicts a young boy crossing the Ukraine amidst fields of cherry blossoms. Finally, the first inklings of the genesis for the play that would be his last came in a terse notebook entry of 1897: "cherry orchard". Today, Chekhov's Yalta garden survives alongside The Cherry Orchard as a monument to a man whose feeling for trees equaled his feeling for theatre. Indeed, trees are often unspoken, symbolic heroes and victims of his stories and plays; so much so that Chekhov is often singled out as Europe's first ecological author.
Chekhov wrote The Cherry Orchard over the course of several years, alternating between periods of lighthearted giddiness and despondent frustration which he considered as bordering upon sloth (in a letter, he wrote, "Every sentence I write strikes me as good for nothing.") Throughout this time he was also further inhibited by his chronic tuberculosis. Guarded by nature, Chekhov seemed overly secretive about all facets of the work, including even the title. As late as the Summer of 1902 he still had not shared anything about the play with anyone in his immediate family or the Art Theatre. It was only to comfort his wife Olga Knipper, who was recovering from a miscarriage, that he finally let her in on the play's title, whispering it to her despite the fact that the two were alone. Chekhov was apparently delighted with the very sound of the title, and enjoyed the same sense of triumph months later when he finally revealed it to Stanislavski. By October 1903 the play was finished and sent to the Moscow Art Theater. Three weeks later Chekhov arrived at rehearsals in what would be a futile attempt to curb all the "weepiness" from the play which Stanislavski had developed. The author apparently also snickered when, during rehearsals, the word "orchard" was replaced with the more practical "plantation", feeling that with that word he had perfectly and symbolically captured the impracticality of an entire way of life.
Although critics at the time were divided in their response to the play, the debut of The Cherry Orchard by the Moscow Art Theatre on 17 January 1904 (Chekhov's birthday) was a resounding theatrical success and the play was almost immediately presented in many of the important provincial cities. This success was not confined only to Russia, as the play was soon seen abroad with great acclaim as well. Shortly after the play's debut, Chekhov departed for Germany due to his worsening health, and by July 1904 he was dead.
The play opens in the early morning hours of a cool day in May in the nursery of Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya's ancestral estate, somewhere in the provinces of Russia just after the turn of the 20th Century. Ranevskaya has been living with an unnamed lover in France for five years, ever since her young son drowned. After receiving news that she had tried to kill herself, Ranevskaya's 17-year-old daughter Anya and Anya's governess Charlotta Ivanovna have gone to fetch her and bring her home to Russia. They are accompanied by Yasha, Ranevskaya's valet who was with her in France. Upon returning, the group is met by Lopakhin, Dunyasha, Varya (who has overseen the estate in Ranevskaya's absence), Leonid Andreyevich Gayev, Boris Borisovich Simeonov-Pishchik, Semyon Yepikhodov, and Firs.
Lopakhin has come to remind Ranevskaya and Gayev that their estate, including the cherry orchard, is due to go to auction in August to pay off the family's debts. He proposes to save the estate by allowing part of it to be developed into summer cottages; however, this would require the destruction of their famous cherry orchard, which is nationally known for its size.
Ranevskaya is enjoying the view of the orchard as day breaks when she is surprised by Peter Trofimov, a young student and the former tutor of Ranevskaya's son, Grisha, whose death prompted Ranevskaya to leave Russia five years ago. Much to the consternation of Varya, Trofimov had insisted on seeing Ranevskaya upon her return, and she is grief-stricken at the reminder of this tragedy.
After Ranevskaya retires for the evening, Anya confesses to Varya that their mother is heavily in debt. They all go to bed with renewed hope that the estate will be saved and the cherry orchard preserved. Trofimov stares after the departing Anya and mutters "My sunshine, my spring" in adoration.
Act II takes place outdoors in mid-summer on the family estate, near the cherry orchard. The act opens with Yepikhodov and Yasha vying for the affection of Dunyasha, while Charlotta soliloquizes about her life as she cleans a rifle. In Act I it was revealed that Yepikhodov proposed to Dunyasha around Easter; however, she has since become infatuated with the more "cultured" Yasha. Charlotta leaves so that Dunyasha and Yasha might have some time alone, but that is interrupted when they hear their employer coming. Yasha shoos Dunyasha away to avoid being caught, and Ranevskaya, Gayev, and Lopakhin appear, once more discussing the uncertain fate of the cherry orchard. Shortly Anya, Varya, and Trofimov arrive as well. Lopakhin teases Trofimov for being a perpetual student, and Trofimov espouses his philosophy of work and useful purpose, to the delight and humour of everyone around. During their conversations, a drunken and disheveled vagrant passes by and begs for money; Ranevskaya thoughtlessly gives him all of her money, despite the protestations of Varya. Shaken by the disturbance, the family departs for dinner, with Lopakhin futilely insisting that the cherry orchard be sold to pay down the debt. Anya stays behind to talk with Trofimov, who disapproves of Varya's constant hawk-like eyes, reassuring Anya that they are "above love". To impress Trofimov and win his affection, Anya vows to leave the past behind her and start a new life. The two depart for the river as Varya calls scoldingly in the background.
It is the end of August, and the evening of Ranevskaya's party has come. Offstage the musicians play as the family and their guests drink, carouse, and entertain themselves. It is also the day of the auction of the estate and the cherry orchard; Gayev has received a paltry amount of money from his and Ranevskaya's stingy aunt in Yaroslavl, and the family members, despite the general merriment around them, are both anxious and distracted while they wait for word of their fates. Varya worries about paying the musicians and scolds their neighbour Pishchik for drinking, Dunyasha for dancing, and Yepikhodov for playing billiards. Charlotta entertains the group by performing several magic tricks. Ranevskaya scolds Trofimov for his constant teasing of Varya, whom he refers to as "Madame Lopakhin". She then urges Varya to marry Lopakhin, but Varya demurs, reminding her that it is Lopakhin's duty to ask for her hand in marriage, not the other way around. She says that if she had money she would move as far away from him as possible. Left alone with Ranevskaya, Trofimov insists that she finally face the truth that the house and the cherry orchard will be sold at auction. Ranevskaya shows him a telegram she has received from Paris and reveals that her former lover is ill again and has begged for her to return to aid him. She says that she is seriously considering joining him, despite his cruel behaviour to her in the past. Trofimov is stunned at this news and the two argue about the nature of love and their respective experiences. Trofimov leaves in a huff, but falls down the stairs offstage and is carried in by the others. Ranevskaya laughs and forgives him for his folly and the two quickly reconcile. Anya enters, declaring a rumour that the cherry orchard has been sold. Lopakhin arrives with Gayev, both of whom are exhausted from the trip and the day's events. Gayev is distant, virtually catatonic, and goes to bed without saying a word of the outcome of the auction. When Ranevskaya asks who bought the estate, Lopakhin reveals that he himself is the purchaser and intends to chop down the orchard with his axe. Ranevskaya, distraught, clings to Anya, who tries to calm her and reassure her that the future will be better now that the cherry orchard has been sold.
It is several weeks later, once again in the nursery (as in Act I), only this time the room is being packed and taken apart as the family prepares to leave the estate forever. Trofimov enters in search of his galoshes, and he and Lopakhin exchange opposing world views. Anya enters and reprimands Lopakhin for ordering his workers to begin chopping down the cherry orchard even while the family is still in the house. Lopakhin apologizes and rushes out to stop them for the time being, in the hopes that he will be somehow reconciled with the leaving family. Charlotta enters, lost and in a daze, and insists that the family find her a new position. Ranevskaya tearfully bids her old life goodbye and leaves as the house is shut up forever. In the darkness, Firs wanders into the room and discovers that they have left without him and boarded him inside the abandoned house to die. He lies down on the couch and resigns himself to this fate (apparently dying on the spot). Offstage we hear the axes as they cut down the cherry orchard.
One of the main themes of the play is the effect social change has on people. The emancipation of the serfs on 19 February 1861 by Alexander II allowed former serfs to gain wealth and status while some aristocrats were becoming impoverished, unable to tend their estates without the cheap labor of slavery. The effect of these reforms was still being felt when Chekhov was writing forty years after the mass emancipation.
Chekhov originally intended the play as a comedy (indeed, the title page of the work refers to it as such), and in letters noted that it is, in places, almost farcical. When he saw the original Moscow Art Theatre production directed by Constantin Stanislavski, he was horrified to find that the director had moulded the play into a tragedy. Ever since that time, productions have had to struggle with this dual nature of the play (and of Chekhov's works in general).
Ranevskaya's failure to address problems facing her estate and family mean that she eventually loses almost everything and her fate can be seen as a criticism of those people who are unwilling to adapt to the new Russia. Her petulant refusal to accept the truth of her past, in both life and love, is her downfall throughout the play. She ultimately runs between her life in Paris and in Russia (she arrives from Paris at the start of the play and returns there afterwards). She is a woman who lives in an illusion of the past (often reliving memories about her son's death, etc.). The speeches by the student Trofimov, attacking intellectuals were later seen as early manifestations of Bolshevik ideas and his lines were often censored by the Tsarist officials. Cherry trees themselves are often seen as symbols of sadness or regret at the passing away of a certain situation or of the times in general.
The theme of identity, and the subversion of expectations of such, is one that can be seen in The Cherry Orchard; indeed, the cast itself can be divided up into three distinct parts: the Gayev family (Ranevskaya, Gayev, Anya and Varya), family friends (Lopakhin, Pishchik and Trofimov), and the "servant class" (Firs, Yasha, Dunyasha, Charlotta and Yepikhodov), the irony being that some of them clearly act out of place – think of Varya, the adopted daughter of an aristocrat, effectively being a housekeeper; Trofimov, the thinking student, being thrown out of university; Yasha considering himself part of the Parisian cultural élite; and both the Ranevskayas and Pishchik running low on money while Lopakhin, born a peasant, is practically a millionaire.
While the Marxist view of the play is more prevalent, an alternative view is that The Cherry Orchard was Chekhov's tribute to himself. Many of the characters in the play hearken back to his earlier works and are based on people he knew in his own life. It should also be noted that his boyhood house was bought and torn down by a wealthy man that his mother had considered a friend. The breaking guitar string in acts 2 and 4 herald back to his earliest works. Finally the classic "loaded gun" that appears in many of Chekhov's plays appears here, but this is his only play in which a gun is shown but not fired.
The play opened on 17 January 1904, the playwright's birthday, at the Moscow Art Theatre under the direction of the actor-director Constantin Stanislavski. During rehearsals, the entire structure of Act Two was re-written (to include the passer-by and the twang from the string dying away to empathise the audience with the mining disaster of the time). Famously contrary to Chekhov's wishes, Stanislavski's version was, by and large, a tragedy. Chekhov disliked the Stanislavski production intensely, concluding that Stanislavski had "ruined" his play, which was in turn under-rehearsed (the Moscow Arts Theatre only rehearsing it for six months, unlike the common practise to rehearse for 18 months, or even more). In one of many letters on the subject, Chekhov would complain, "Anya, I fear, should not have any sort of tearful tone... Not once does my Anya cry, nowhere do I speak of a tearful tone, in the second act there are tears in their eyes, but the tone is happy, lively. Why did you speak in your telegram about so many tears in my play? Where are they? ... Often you will find the words "through tears," but I am describing only the expression on their faces, not tears. And in the second act there is no graveyard."
A production in 1925 at the Oxford Playhouse by J. B. Fagan and a production in 1934 at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London directed by Tyrone Guthrie and translated by Hubert Butler were among the first English-language productions of the play.
The Royal Shakespeare Company/BBC TV, black and white, Peggy Ashcroft plays Ranevskaya, Ian Holm plays Trofimov, John Gielgud Gayev, Judi Dench Anya, Dorothy Tutin Varya, production by Michel Saint-Denis, directed by Michael Elliott, 1962, released on DVD by BBC Worldwide Ltd 2009.
A production starring Irene Worth as Ranevskaya, Raul Julia as Lopakhin, Mary Beth Hurt as Anya and Meryl Streep as Dunyasha, directed by Andrei Şerban and featuring Tony Award-winning costumes and set by Santo Loquasto, opened at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in 1977.
A production directed by Peter Hall, translated by Michael Frayn and starring Dorothy Tutin as Ranevskaya, Albert Finney as Lopakhin, Ben Kingsley as Trofimov and Ralph Richardson as Firs, appeared at the Royal National Theatre in London in 1978 to nearly universal acclaim. A minimalist production directed by Peter Gill opened at the Riverside Studios in London also in 1978, to good reviews.
In 1981, Peter Brook mounted a production in French (La Cérisaie) with an international cast including Brook's wife Natasha Parry as Ranevskaya, Niels Arestrup as Lopakhin, and Michael Piccoli as Gayev. The production was remounted at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1988 after tours through Africa and the Middle East.
Also in 1981, the BBC produced a version for British television by Trevor Griffiths from a translation by Helen Rappaport and directed by Richard Eyre. Instead of her 1962 BBC role as daughter Anya, Judi Dench here played the mother Ranevskaya to Bill Paterson's Lopakhin, Anton Lesser as Trofimov, Frederick Treves as Gayev, Anna Massey as Charlotta, and a 24-year-old Timothy Spall as Yepikhodov.
A film version starring Charlotte Rampling as Ranevskaya, Alan Bates as Gayev, Owen Teale as Lopakhin, Melanie Lynskey as Dunyasha and Gerard Butler as Yasha, directed by Michael Cacoyannis, appeared in 1999.
An L.A. Theatre Works recorded version of the play was produced in 2002 starring Marsha Mason, Charles Durning, Hector Elizondo, and Jennifer Tilly. Others in the cast were Jordan Baker, Jon Chardiet, Michael Cristofer, Tim DeKay, Jeffrey Jones, Christy Keef, Amy Pietz, and Joey Slotnick.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Chicago, Illinois) performed a version that was translated by its Associate Artistic Director, Curt Columbus, and directed by ensemble member Tina Landau. The play premiered on 4 November 2004 and ran until 5 March 2005 at the Upstairs Theatre. Appearing in the performance were Robert Breuler, Francis Guinan, Amy Morton, Yasen Peyankov, Rondi Reed, Anne Adams, Guy Adkins, Chaon Cross, Leonard Kraft, Julian Martinez, Ned Noyes, Elizabeth Rich, Ben Viccellio, and Chris Yonan.
The Atlantic Theatre Company (New York, New York) in 2005 produced a new adaptation of The Cherry Orchard by Tom Donaghy, where much more of the comedy was present as the playwright had originally intended.
A new production of the play starring Annette Bening as Ranevskaya and Alfred Molina as Lopakhin, translated by Martin Sherman and directed by Sean Mathias, opened at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in February 2006.
The Huntington Theatre Company at Boston University produced a version in January 2007 using Richard Nelson's translation, directed by Nicholas Martin with Kate Burton as Madame Ranevskaya, Joyce Van Patten as Charlotta Ivanovna, and Dick Latessa as Firs.
Jonathan Miller directed the play in March–April 2007 at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, England. The play represents Miller's return to the British stage after nearly a decade away and stars Joanna Lumley as Ranevskaya.
Libby Appel adapted and directed the play in 2007 for her farewell season as artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland, Oregon). The new translation, based on an original literal translation by Allison Horsley, is considered to be "strongly Americanized".
A version of the play was performed as the opening production on the Chichester Festival Theatre Stage in May–June 2008, with a cast including Dame Diana Rigg, Frank Finlay, Natalie Cassidy, Jemma Redgrave and Maureen Lipman.
In 2009, a new version of the play by Tom Stoppard was performed as the first production of The Bridge Project, a partnership between North American and UK theatres. The play ran at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Sam Mendes directed the production with a cast including Simon Russell Beale, Sinéad Cusack, Richard Easton, Rebecca Hall and Ethan Hawke.
A brand new adaptation of the play was produced by the Blackeyed Theatre in spring 2009 as a UK tour, with a cast of four.
A new translation of the play in Punjabi was performed in September 2009 by the students of Theatre Art Department of Punjabi University, Patiala, India.
A version of the play in Afrikaans was performed in late September 2009 by students of the Department of Drama at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
A new adaption was commissioned by the Brighton Festival and performed by the dreamthinkspeak group. They renovated the old co-op home-store on the London Road using the whole store as a stage. They renamed it Before I Sleep and said it was inspired by the original play. It received positive reviews from both The Guardian and The Independent newspapers. It was funded by Arts Council England, National Lottery and a long list of other Brighton and Hove based businesses.
The Royal National Theatre in London staged a new version starring Zoë Wanamaker from May to August 2011, reuniting director Howard Davies with writer Andrew Upton, which was also shown at cinemas internationally through National Theatre Live.
The Eastern Bohemian Theatre, Pardubice, Czechia. Directed by Petr Novotný (director). Translated by Leoš Suchařípa. Starring: Jindra Janoušková (Ranevskaya), Petra Tenorová (Anya), Kristina Jelínková (Varya), Zdeněk Rumpík (Gayev), Jiří Kalužný (Lopakhin), Miloslav Tichý (Trofimov), Martin Mejzlík (Simeonov-Pishchik), Lída Vlášková (Charlotte), Ladislav Špiner (Yepikhodov), Martina Sikorová (Dunyasha), Václav Dušek (Firs), Jan Musil (Yasha), Radek Žák (Stationmaster), Alexandr Postler (Stranger). The play had a premiere 16 and 17 October 2011 at 7 pm and last performance on 14 January 2012.
The Vinohrady Theatre, Prague. Directed by Vladimír Morávek. Starring Dagmar Veškrnová-Havlová, Jiřina Jirásková (Charlotte), Viktor Preiss, Pavla Tomicová, Martin Stropnický, Lucie Juřičková, Svatopluk Skopal, Andrea Elsnerová, Pavel Batěk, Ilja Racek, Martin Zahálka, Jiří Dvořák, jiří Žák. The play had its premiere on 5 February 2008.
The Komorní scéna Aréna, Ostrava. Directed by Ivan Krejčí. Starring Alena Sasínová-Polarczyk, Tereza Dočkalová, Petra Kocmanová, Norbert Lichý, Josef Kaluža, Michal Čapka, Dušan Škubal, Dana Fialková, Michal Moučka, Tereza Cisovská, Pavel Cisovský, Albert Čuba, Marek Cisovský, René Šmotek. The play had premiere on 21 March 2009.
The Theatre Workshop of Nantucket staged a new adaptation and translation of Chekhov's Cherry Orchard set on Nantucket in 1972. The play premiered on 14 September 2012. It was directed by Anne Breeding and Gregory Stroud, and translated and adapted by Gregory Stroud.
The Stage Center Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, Illinois, presented a new version of The Cherry Orchard, adapted and directed by Dan Wirth, in October, 2013.
Immediate Theater at Williams College is currently working on a production of The Cherry Orchard under the direction of Lily Riopelle.
In some versions of the pilot episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Clark is present when an old theater is being demolished for a parking lot. Meanwhile, inside, an elderly actress is reading out a monologue from the play in front of an empty auditorium as a farewell. Clark uses his heat vision to break a bulldozer's engine and give the actress time, then comes inside to speak to her.
The Japanese film Sakura no Sono (2008) is about a drama group in a girls-only private high school putting on a production of the Cherry Orchard. It is based on a previous film and a manga of the same name.
The play has a role in the comedy film Henry's Crime (2011).
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