The Cherry Orchard

The Cherry Orchard: Chekhov's Comedy, Stanislavsky's Tragedy

When Anton Chekhov began his play The Cherry Orchard in December 1902, he intended it to be a farce in four acts. Having written it during a particularly awful bout with emphysema, it took almost a year for him to send it out to Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre, where it had been eagerly anticipated. Stanislavski, in Chekhov’s opinion, took the play too far. He had dashed off a telegram to Chekhov saying, “Just read play...shaken...cannot come to senses in unprecedented ecstasy...sincerely congratulate author genius.” This disgusted Chekhov – why should a farce evoke such a visceral reaction? (Hingley, New Life, 300) The answer soon became clear. Stanislavski was determined to stage the play as a realistic and tragic ode to the dying upper class, when in fact, this was not even close to what Chekhov had intended.

The differences in the viewpoints of Chekhov and Stanislavski became particularly widened when The Cherry Orchard went into rehearsals. As the play began to receive publicity, Chekhov became increasingly unhappy with the tragic overtones. In a letter to his wife Olga, he wrote, “Why do they persist in calling my play a drama on the posters and in press announcements? Nemirovich and Stanislavski absolutely do not...

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