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The Cherry Orchard. A Comedy in Four Acts. Anton Chekhov. Translated by Julius West. The Cherry Orchard 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 play has influenced the dramatic works of many, including Eugene O'Neill, George Bernard Shaw and Arthur Miller.
About the Author
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian physician, dramaturge and author who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history. His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics. Chekhov practised as a medical doctor throughout most of his literary career: "Medicine is my lawful wife," he once said, "and literature is my mistress." Chekhov renounced the theatre after the disastrous reception of The Seagull in 1896, but the play was revived to acclaim in 1898 by Constantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and premiered his last two plays, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a challenge to the acting ensemble as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a "theatre of mood" and a "submerged life in the text." Chekhov had at first written stories only for financial gain, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story. His originality consists in an early use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, later adopted by James Joyce and other modernists, combined with a disavowal of the moral finality of traditional story structure. He made no apologies for the difficulties this posed to readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.