The work was written for the Moscow Arts Theatre and it opened on 31 January 1901, under the direction of Constantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Stanislavsky acted Vershinin and the sisters were Olga Knipper (for whom Chekhov wrote the part of Masha), Margarita Savetskaya as Olga and Maria Andreyeva as Irina. Maria Lilina (Stanislavsky's wife) was Natasha, Vsevolod Meyerhold appeared as Tusenbach, Leonid Leonidov was Solyony and Alexander was Artem Chebutykin.
Reception was mixed: Chekhov felt that Stanislavsky's "exuberant" direction had masked the subtleties of the work, and only Knipper had shown her character developing in the manner the playwright had intended. In the director's view the point was to show the hopes, aspirations and dreams of the characters, but audiences were affected by the pathos of the sisters' loneliness and desperation and by their eventual, uncomplaining acceptance of their situation. Nonetheless the piece proved popular and soon it became established in the company's repertoire.