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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 24 | volume V | January-February, 2002



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 24January-February, 2002
Theatre Reviews

Anton Chekhov and the revolution of 1905

p. 1
Brook Stowe

”Think, Anya – your grandfather, your great-grandfather, all your ancestors owned slaves, living souls. Can you hear their voices? Don't you feel human beings looking at you from every tree in the orchard? To have owned human souls has perverted you all – your ancestors and you who are alive now, so that your mother, your uncle, and even you don't realize it, but you're living in debt, at the expense of those who were your slaves”.

    Anton Chekhov's final play, “The Cherry Orchard” premiered at the Moscow Art Theater in January, 1904. Chekhov died the following summer. Yet his last work, and indeed the last years of his life, was inextricably entwined with the failed revolution that swept Russia the year after his death. No literary work, neither contemporary nor retrospective, has captured the zeitgeist of this era in Russian history more perceptively than “The Cherry Orchard.”
    When Chekhov began writing the play at his new home in Yalta in the spring of 1903, he was under mounting pressure from Moscow Art Theater founders Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko to produce a new work for the coming season. Earlier that year, Chekhov had vaguely promised them a “vaudeville or comedy,” offering little if any detail. Stanislavsky was not convinced, concerned that the new play would prove to be “something impossible on the weirdness and vulgarity of life. I only fear that instead of a farce again we shall have
     a great big tragedy”.
    The seeds of the play had been germinating for some time. In the fall of 1901, Chekhov had first mentioned to Stanislavsky an orchard as the setting for a play, and he suggested the title to his sister Masha the following year, after receiving news that the new owner of the Chekhovs' estate in Melikhovo had chopped down the orchard of cherry trees Anton had planted. By early 1903, Chekhov was firmly established at the MAT as its leading playwright and literary star. He had married the company's lead actress Olga Knipper in May, 1901, and had enjoyed considerable success and acclaim with three previous stagings of his work under Stanislavsky's direction.
    The formation of the Moscow Art Theater undeniably changed the course of Chekhov's life as a playwright, and with it the course of modern theater. Following the abject failure of “The Seagull” in St. Petersburg in October, 1896, Chekhov vowed never to write for the stage again. Opening

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