Review: The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov

1/22/99

The play The Cherry Orchard was written in the last year of the life of its author Anton Pavlov Chekhov and was first performed the same year in the Moscow Art Theater in 1904 as a tragedy despite the fact that Chekhov insisted it was a comedy rather than a tragedy as the director portrayed it.

According to The Reader’s Companion to World Literature by Hornstein, Percy, and Brown (1984); Chekhov was a pre-revolutionary Russian writer who at least fairly accurately reflected the Russian society of his day.  With his family heritage and experiences as a physician, Chekhov was able to look at Russian society from the point of view of the poor as well as the rich.  RCWL describes the Russia of Chekhov’s day as including the suffering of the poor and the rich who live in boredom.

In his writings, Chekhov takes a realistic although sometimes surreal view of his subjects.

I once saw the Oral Roberts University’s production of Chekhov’s play The Seagull which seemed to have a tragic surreal air about the characters.  His play The Cherry Orchard is a good example of realism since it appears to show a slice of society not as Chekhov wants it to be but as it is.  Chekhov presents his audience with the common, the mundane, and the seemingly unimportant as it would be in everyday life.  Chekhov once wrote about life, “It is very monotonous and boring; one day is very much like another.” (RCWL, p.105).  In his writings this outlook on life is definitely apparent.

The characters in The Cherry Orchard are upper class but bored people who have just arrived home from a journey and are now discussing old friends, how tired they are, debt problems, and a myriad of other topics.  I find it ironic how devoted the servant girl is yet the aristocrats seem not to care.  The plot, if you can call it that, peaks at the suggestion that the family owned cherry orchard be cut down and leased to builders to get them out of debt.  While this would solve their debt problems the family is much more devote to the traditions of what the cherry orchard represents and how historical it is as a local attraction.  In contrast the problem-solving merchant who proposed its demise cares nothing for traditions.  I suppose this was an idea from that time period or Russian culture, but I do find it amazing that they would talk of marrying off one of the daughters to a rich man as a more viable means of relief from debt even more than selling a parcel of land.

I like the sense of tradition as held by the landowners.  This sense of something which outlasts themselves and should be held as it is despite their financial problems.  I felt The Cherry Orchard somewhat ironically displays the problems with selfish aristocratic living including arranged marriages because of money, apathy about the devotion of servants, and self-centered attitudes. Even now I think reading Chekhov’s slice-of-life style help people today to understand an era when people have lost this sense of dedication and seek after “their own thing”.  After all anyone can learn from the way people were if they are willing to consider the past and do something different in their own lives.

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