The Cherry Orchard

Introduction

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 is often identified on the short list of the three or four outstanding plays written by Chekhov along with The Seagull, Three Sisters, and Uncle Vanya.[1]

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 play has influenced the dramatic works of many, including Eugene O'Neill, George Bernard Shaw, David Mamet and Arthur Miller.


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