The Cherry Orchard
by Anton Chekhov
As Dolly Parton says in Steel Magnolias – and we may be paraphrasing here – "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." Chekhov felt the same, and often included stage directions suggesting a line be said while "fighting back tears," or "through tears." When Chekhov first visited rehearsals of director Stanislavsky's premiere production of The Cherry Orchard, however, he was appalled. The famous director had his actors weeping copiously – especially in the final act – transforming Chekhov's "Comedy in Four Acts" into a tear-jerking tragedy. Chekhov complained:
Not once does my Anya cry, nowhere do I speak of a tearful tone, in the second act there are tears in their eyes, but the tone is happy, lively. Why did you speak in your telegram about so many tears in my play? Where are they? ... Often you will find the words "through tears," but I am describing only the expression on their faces, not tears. (source: Stroud, Gregory. Retrospective Revolution. Urbana-Champaign, 2006. 63-4.)
Even if Chekhov's wife Olga Knipper, who played Lubov, disagreed, Chekhov insisted the play was a comedy.
Chekhov was first a writer of comic articles and popular short farces, and The Cherry Orchard includes a number of comic elements. Epikhodov of the squeaky boots is clearly a clown, if a sad one. Fiers's deafness provides a good amount of comic relief. Often – particularly in Act 3, when tension is highest – a character has a serious moment and is then undercut by a moment of slapstick. In an uncomfortably harsh encounter, Lubov eviscerates Trofimov for being a virgin. He runs humiliated and falls down the stairs. With this constant to-and-fro of comic and tragic elements, the play doesn't fit into a neat category. Some people have taken to calling works like The Cherry Orchard "Chekhovian Comedy."