Study Guide

The Cherry Orchard

By Anton Chekhov

The Cherry Orchard Introduction

Anton Chekhov was a Russian writer famous for his short stories and plays. The Cherry Orchard was his last play, produced by the famous Moscow Art Theatre shortly before his death in 1904.

You may have heard that Chekhov was a doctor. He started writing to support himself during medical school, and you can see the bedside manner in his writing. He's a man who has seen a lot, and thinks of people with a mixture of affection and ridicule. You can certainly see this side of him in The Cherry Orchard, which depicts an aristocratic Russian family that loses their ancestral estate because they can't pay the mortgage.

Many consider The Cherry Orchard Chekhov's greatest play. It is a beautiful example of Chekhovian style: the mixture of comedy and tragedy, a form that avoids melodrama by setting the most exciting events offstage, and the detailed characterization that makes Chekhov an actor's dream.

What is The Cherry Orchard About and Why Should I Care?

Imagine there is a beautiful park in your neighborhood. It's owned by one family and walled off from everyone else. But the family is almost never there; the park decays because they can't pay for its upkeep. Should the rest of the community be able to make use of that space?

Now think of the most beloved place in your hometown: a field, a patch of woods, a city block, the family home. You played there. You had your first kiss there. A million moments that make you you happened there. Fast-forward a few decades and someone wants to take this spot away from you. Obliterate it. Maybe turn it into a parking lot or a hotel. No one will ever know that this special place was there but you, and once you die, that's it. Would you fight for it?

These two scenarios play into The Cherry Orchard. This play is about the relentless march of time and the way people handle change. Some profit by it. Some go kicking and screaming. And others are left behind.

The Cherry Orchard Resources

Websites

Chekhov Short Stories
201 stories, to be precise

The Proposal
Read the full text of one of Chekhov's farces, a forerunner to the comic touches in The Cherry Orchard.

Chekhov on the NY Times
Chekhov's NY Times topic page, which provides links to all the newspaper's Chekhov-related articles

Chekhov Biography
Brandeis University provides a biography of Chekhov.

Movie or TV Productions

The Cherry Orchard, 1962
This BBC version features Judi Dench as Anya, Peggy Ashcroft as Lubov, and John Gielgud as Gaev.

The Cherry Orchard, 1981
Almost twenty years later, Judi Dench made another TV version, this time playing Lubov.

La Cerisae, 2000
In this French version, Charlotte Rampling plays Lubov.

Images

Young Chekhov
A photo of Chekhov as a young man.

Cherry Orchard
What does a cherry orchard look like, anyway?

Production Photo
A picture from the 2009 production at Brooklyn Academy of Music