The Cherry Orchard

Definition

Theater

  • Chekhov's last play, generally regarded as his masterpiece.The tragicomedy was first staged in 1904 at the Moscow Art Theatreunder Stanislavsky, whose influential production emphasizedthe vein of melancholy in the play to the detriment of the comedy.The first London production was put on by the Stage Society in 1912.

    The story concerns the ineffectual attempts of Madame LyubovRanevskya and her family to save their estate, with its glorious cherryorchard, from bankruptcy. They are horrified when Lopakhin, a suitorto her stepdaughter, suggests levelling the orchard to develop a holidayresort. Other plans fail, however, and the estate is auctioned. Surprisingly,Lopakhin is the buyer, and the family prepares to move out. In thefinal scene workmen begin to chop down the orchard. The play is sometimesseen as a parable about the doom of the Russian landowning class.

    One memorable revival was the Old Vic's 1933 production directedby Tyrone Guthrie and starring Charles Laughton, James Mason, ElsaLanchester, and Flora Robson. The production suffered a neardisaster when Robson tripped over a rug and fell flat on her face.She quickly got back on her feet but the audience showed no reaction.Later in her dressing room, she asked visiting Hollywood producerJames Whale why nobody had laughed. "But why?" he shrugged."We all thought, 'How very Russian'."

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