Explore THE CHERRY ORCHARD
THE WORLD OF THE PLAY
After five years living abroad, Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya returns home to her ancestral estate, which contains the family’s beloved cherry orchard, as it is in danger of being auctioned to pay the delinquent mortgage. Lopakhin, a now wealthy merchant whose lineage had worked as serfs on the estate, tries to convince Ranevskaya to cut down the cherry orchard and build rental villas to pay off the mortgage, but neither she nor her brother Gaev can fathom such exploitation of their cherished homeland. As feeble attempts are made to secure finances, characters reveal memories and dreams of love, loss, beliefs, and uncertainty that reverberate in this time of palpable transition. The cherry orchard is ultimately sold at auction and the family prepares to leave. As characters depart, heading for various destinations, the sound of an ax cutting down trees is heard and the family’s ancient ailing servant, Firs – forgotten and left – lies down by the door.
Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya, main proprietor of the estate
Anya, her daughter
Varya, her adopted daughter
Leonid Andreyevih Gayev, Lyubov’s brother, custodian of the estate
THE FAMILY SERVANTS
Yermolai Lopakhin, a businessman, was the son of an estate serf
Petya Trofimov, a student, tutored Lyubov’s son
Semyon Yepikhodov, an accountant
Carlotta, the governess
Dunyasha, a maid
Yasha, a young Valet
Firs, an old valet
OTHER VARIOUS CHARACTERS
Boris Simeonov-Pishchik, a land-owning neighbor
Jewish Musicians, Vagrants, Servants
About the Playwright
Anton Chekhov was born in the once prosperous port town of Taganrog, Russia (what is now Ukraine) on January 17, 1860. He was the third of six children. A year after he was born, Alexander II liberated the serfs (indentured servants living on the land of the nobles) in his Emancipation Manifesto. Chekhov’s grandfather was a former serf who had bought the family’s freedom in 1941. As a child, Anton was playful and witty and enjoyed participating in and, despite being against school regulations, attending the theater. When he was 16, his father went bankrupt and fled to Moscow to avoid debtors’ prison. Chekhov stayed behind, and supported himself and his education by tutoring.
In 1879, he moved to Moscow to rejoin his family after passing his exams, and enrolled in the Moscow University Medical School. Chekhov supported his family and paid his tuition by writing, mainly comic pieces for newspapers and magazines, but also murder mysteries, romances, news reports, and a theatrical gossip column which provided him backstage access to theatres in Moscow. By 1884, he had written over 300 pieces, published mainly under pseudonyms, mostly as Antosha Chekhonte from a boyhood nickname. In 1884, he also achieved his medical degree, became a general practitioner, and contracted pulmonary tuberculosis.
By 1885, Chekhov had gained fame as a writer and he began to write under his actual name. Between 1886 and 1887, while still practicing medicine he published 166 pieces including short stories, novellas, and plays. In 1887, he was awarded the Pushkin Prize for Literature by the Imperial Academy of Science and also had a successful Moscow production of Ivanov with curtain-raisers The Bear and The Proposal.
After rejection of his 1889 play, The Wood Demon, and caring for his brother Nikolai through his death from tuberculosis, Cheknov took a sabbatical from writing and traveled 10,000 miles away to the Russian penal colony of Sakhalin Island, where he spent a year documenting conditions there, despite his own poor health. His return travels brought him through South East Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East, and his first excursion to Western Europe (which included Vienna, Venice, Naples, Nice, Monte Carlo, and Paris).
When he returned to Russia in 1891, he bought a farmstead in Melikhovo, moved his family there, planted a cherry orchard, and helped to develop roads, schools, and medical services for the community there. By 1897, Chekhov’s health had declined and he was forced to relocate to the milder climate of Yalta on the Black Sea. To pay for his expenses, he sold all rights to his works (excepting his plays) to the publisher A.F. Marks for a relatively nominal fee.
The remainder of his dramatic career was interlaced with the work of the Moscow Art Theatre, founded in 1897 by Nemirovich-Danchenko and K.S. Alekseev (a.k.a. Konstantin Stanislavsky). There, Chekhov met his future wife Olga Knipper and received iconic productions of the four plays for which he is best known: Seagull in 1898, Uncle Vanya in 1899, Three Sisters in 1901, and Cherry Orchard in 1904.
The Cherry Orchard premiered on Chekov’s birthday in 1904. Six months later, Chekhov died of tuberculosis in Badenweiler, Germany. He was buried on July 9th in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.
THE WORLD OF THE PLAY
(from “Project Discovery Study Guide.” Trinity Repertory Company, 2006. Accessed January 12, 2015. http://web.nsboro.k12.ma.us/algonquin/faculty/englishteachers/alera/docu...)
Russia and its people have seen their share of hardship and turmoil. However, arguably the most tumultuous period in the country’s history was the years between the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 and the first Russian Revolution, which occurred in 1905. During this time, an incredibly large number of former serfs (nearly 23 million or 37.7% of the Russian population) were at once liberated and left disenfranchised. They were allowed the right to own land, but left without the means to do so, and without any representation in Russia’s monarchal government. This growing sense of disenchantment would eventually evolve into full-blown revolution by 1917.
The Slav Empire by Alphonse Mucha
During the 1800’s, Russia’s population doubled in size while the country maintained an agrarian, serf based economy, resisting the tide of industrialization, which was sweeping through Europe. The gap between a burgeoning Europe and a decaying Russia was exposed during the Crimean War (1853-1856), which saw Britain, France, assorted Italian kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire rout Russia, mostly due to their technological superiority. Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881) saw the writing on the wall (and heard the growing whispers of discontent from his people) and decided to abolish serfdom throughout his country, hoping the freed serfs would evolve into a prosperous middle class, which would in turn help revitalize the economy. Alexander also worried that if he didn’t act soon, the decision might not be his to make. “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below,” he reasoned to a group of Moscow nobles who protested the emancipation.
Russian Serf, 1876 by Vasily Polenov
His Emancipation Manifesto, which was written two years before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, allowed serfs to buy land from their noble landowners. However, part of the emancipation required the serfs to make redemptive payments and taxes back to the government (sometimes for as long as fifty years), which left many of the recently freed serfs back at square one: without money, without land, and hopelessly in debt to the noble landowners. Additionally, the serfs still had no say in the government. Although serfdom was abolished, since its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants, revolutionary tensions were not abated.
Hoping to stem the revolutionary tide, the government enacted several different reforms. Zemstvas were created, which were local governments made up of representatives of various social classes to delegate and discuss important local issues. Dissatisfaction among the people continued, however, reaching its acme when, after several attempts on his life, Alexander II was assassinated by a group of nihilists.
Alexander III (1845-1894) ruled very differently from his progressive father. He set about imposing harsh punishments for all revolutionaries, decreed that only the Russian language and religion would be taught in schools (despite his German, Finnish, and Polish subjects) and railed against freedom of speech, democracy, constitutions and the parliamentary system. Many of Alexander II’s reforms were eradicated or marginalized. After Alexander III’s death, his eldest son, Nicholas II, assumed the throne. He would be the last tsar of Russia.
Nicholas II (1868-1919) was a man uncomfortable with leadership, and was not fully prepared to steward Russia away from revolution and toward unity. In an effort to boost national pride and morale, he unsuccessfully waged war with Japan in 1904. Although the Russian navy was larger, it was no match for Japan’s sleek naval ships, and Nicholas was forced to surrender in humiliating fashion. Shortly after the defeat, in 1905, the people of Russia marched to the Tsar’s palace in a peaceful demonstration. Led by Father Gapon, a Russian Orthodox priest, the march was meant to as a non-violent petition for rights, including the right for representation in the government and the right to vote. The palace guards, confused by the crowds walking toward them, opened fire, killing over one thousand people (portrait, directly above). Nicholas was not even in the country at the time.
This marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Soviets (councils of workers) appeared in most cities to direct revolutionary activity. Russia was paralyzed, and the government was desperate. In October 1905, Nicholas reluctantly issued the famous October Manifesto, which conceded the creation of a national Duma (legislature or parliament) to be called without delay. The right to vote was extended and no law was to go into force without confirmation by the Duma. The moderate groups were satisfied; but the socialists rejected the concessions as insufficient and tried to organize new strikes.
These reforms sated the population for the time being, but many problems still existed: the weaknesses of the Russian economy, an inefficient military and a wobbly semi-parliamentary government confused about its own power and purpose. Russia teetered on the edge of revolution, and World War I pushed it right over.
In the 1870s, the gentry still owned one-third of the arable land, but in 1905 its share had declined to 22% (of which one-third was rented to the peasantry). Few landowners had any grasp of agriculture or accounting and many of them spent long periods away from their estates, often leaving their affairs in the hands of corrupt or incompetent managers. Many of these estates then fell to bankruptcy. In 1903, almost half of all private land in Russia (excluding peasant land) was mortgaged, forcing the landed gentry to sell their estates and join the professional or commercial classes.
The Moscow Art Theatre
Founded in 1897 in Moscow by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, the Moscow Art Theater was created as the foundation for naturalistic theater in Russia, marking the beginning of modern theater in the country. At the time, melodramas, which emphasized heightened emotions and situations, were the most dominant form of theater. Naturalism aimed to hold a mirror up to the audience, to provide a slice of everyday life
Chekhov and the actors of the Moscow Art Theater, 1899 with detailed sets and everyday language. Nemirovitch Danchenko and Stanislavsky banded together in a sort of revolt against the conservatism of the existing Russian theaters.
The theater achieved great fame thanks to Stanislavsky’s productions of Chekhov’s four major works, beginning with The Seagull and ending with Cherry Orchard. Some other famous productions include Tolstoy’s Czar Fyodor Ivanovitch, Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, and Gorky’s Lower Depths.
Chekhov certainly left his mark on the Moscow Art Theater: still in existence today, the theater’s mascot is a seagull, and the MAT is often referred to as The Sea Gull Theater. It has been run by Oleg Tabakov since 2000.
Director Statement by Abigail Adams
I’ve probably seen more productions of The Cherry Orchard than any other play. Not sure why, guess it speaks to some archetypal something. My grandparents had a 400 acre farm in Bucks County. My grandfather lovingly farmed the land while he was also running the Midvale Steel Company. I was 17 when he died. My grandmother immediately put the farm up for sale. It caused a huge family rift. She moved to Florida with the money and lived there happily for 30 years. The farm land was turned into tract housing much to my architect father’s great shame. The family never again had the same kind of center, but in truth everybody was glad not to have the show up to Sunday dinner anymore. The day of the sale, my brother, cousin Tad, and I started up my grandfather’s tractor and drove through the fields to say goodbye. I think most of us will have a Cherry Orchard story or two. It’s all so sad AND so funny. I still haven’t seen a production that’s truly both – Servan, Brook, Eyre – as I remember those productions, not even they seemed to get the mix.
Professionally, this is the kind of writing that interests me most. It appears naturalistic, but it’s really brilliant plotting with compressed language. Both funny and sad, mythic and ordinary. The mix of detail on the surface and powerful feeling underneath. There are no answers in Chekhov, only questions. Endless contradictions within each character. They rarely speak what needs to be spoken or hear what needs to be heard. This reluctance to change speaks to all of us. It seems particularly relevant now in my own life, for this theatre and for the culture at large. Chekhov is wonderfully ambivalent about change and the march of progress. What is home? What does departure mean? How do we accept loss? What can we let go of? What should we hold on to? What ultimately sets us free?
For the 40th season, it seems appropriate at this theatre to do a play that requires a large ensemble – there is no starting point. Pete has always been my idea of Lopakhin. I knew I wanted Teri for Varya as soon as I met her. Mary is Lyubov. So the casting is very specific. I’ve become much more specific as I’ve grown older.
About Adaptor Emily Mann
Multi-award-winning Director and Playwright Emily Mann is in her 23rd season as Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre where she has overseen over 125 productions. Under Ms. Mann’s leadership, McCarter was honored with the 1994 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater. Most recently at McCarter, Ms. Mann directed Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance and the world premieres of The Convert by Danai Gurira (also at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and CTG in Los Angeles; six Ovation Awards, including Best Director of a Play and nominated for thirteen; also nominated for three Jeff Awards including Best Production); Phaedra Backwards by Marina Carr; Sarah Treem’s The How and the Why; and Edward Albee’s Me, Myself & I (also at Playwrights Horizons). Among the plays she directed at McCarter are: Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna in the Tropics (also on Broadway), the world premiere of Christopher Durang’s Miss Witherspoon (also off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons), All Over (also off-Broadway at The Roundabout; 2003 Obie Award for Directing), Three Sisters, A Doll House, The Glass Menagerie, and Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Last spring, Emily directed A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway with Blair Underwood, Wood Harris, Nicole Ari Parker, and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Emily’s plays include Execution of Justice (Guggenheim Fellowship, Helen Hayes and Joseph Jefferson Awards, Drama Desk and Outer Circle Award nominations); Still Life (six Obie Awards); Greensboro (A Requiem); Meshugah; and Annulla, An Autobiography. Ms. Mann wrote and directed Having Our Say, adapted from the book by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth (Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle nominations; NAACP and Joseph Jefferson Awards; Peabody and Christopher Awards for the screenplay). A collection of her plays, Testimonies: Four Plays, has been published by TCG. Her latest play, Mrs. Packard, was the recipient of the 2007 Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award and was published by TCG in spring 2009. Her adaptations include: three Chekhov plays (Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and a free adaptation of The Seagull: A Seagull in the Hamptons) and The House of Bernarda Alba (recently staged in London). A winner of the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award and the Edward Albee Last Frontier Directing Award, Emily is a member of the Dramatists Guild and serves on its council. She is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Princeton University and was named the 2011 Person of the Year from the National Theatre Conference.