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Theatre / The Cherry Orchard

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The Cherry Orchard (Вишнëвый сад or Vishnevyi sad in Russian) is the last play by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. It opened at the Moscow Art Theatre on 17 January 1904 in a production directed by Constantin Stanislavski. Although Chekhov intended it as a comedy, and it does contain some elements of farce, Stanislavski insisted on directing the play as a tragedy. Since this initial production, directors have had to contend with the dual nature of the play.

The play concerns an aristocratic Russian woman and her family as they return to their family estate (which includes a large and well-known cherry orchard) just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage. While presented with options to save the estate, the family essentially does nothing and the play ends with the sale of the estate to the son of a former serf; the family leaves to the sound of the cherry orchard being cut down. The story presents themes of cultural futility – both the futile attempts of the aristocracy to maintain its status and of the bourgeoisie to find meaning in its newfound materialism. In reflecting the socio-economic forces at work in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, including the rise of the middle class after the abolition of serfdom in the mid-19th century and the sinking of the aristocracy, the play reflects forces at work around the globe in that period.

Things go about as well as you would expect in a Chekhov production.

Provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Name Change: Different translations of the script will give Yepikhodov different nicknames, depending on how the translator interprets the Russian idiom. Common ones are "Catastrophe Corner," "The Walking Disaster," "Two-and-Twenty Troubles," and "Twenty-Two Disasters."
  • Ambiguously Gay: Some performances interpret Gaev this way.
  • As You Know: Lopakhin explaining the fate of the cherry orchard to Ranyevskaya.
  • Author Avatar: Lopakhin has a lot in common with Chekhov himself: they were both born poor (Pavel Chekhov, Anton's father, was the son of a serf, and Lopakhin's father and grandfather were serfs, too), had abusive fathers who worked in grocery stores, and gained wealth and notoriety through hard work.
  • Broken Bird: Both Madame Ranyevskaya and Varya.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Lyubov and Gaev. This pair stays together almost the entire production, agreeing and arguing together against Lopakhin. Both being deeply attached to the estate, their childhood, and each other, they have a very strong bond.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Averted—it is the first and only time that a gun is present but never fired in a Chekhov play.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Gaev. He makes a speech about the nobleness of a book cupboard... with a straight face. That's also just the tip of the iceberg! Besides fetishizing the book cupboard, he has an unhealthy obsession with lemon drops and billiards and he provokes his nieces to to shut him up on many an occasion. Played far more seriously when he and Lopakhin return from the auction where the former purchased the orchard, where he's seen in a quite severe Heroic BSoD state.
    • Pishchik. Goodness gracious, he downs a whole container of pills just for comedy. This man is not sane.
    • Yepikhodov. Besides being referred to as "Catastrophy Corner" the entire play because of his clumsiness, he also frequently starts a sentence not knowing how it's going to... come to a... final... state of being.
    • Scharlotta Ivanovna. The start of the third act has her going into quite the rant about her past as a Circus Brat.
  • Cherry Blossoms: Subverted: not only we don't really see the cherries themselves, but it's mentioned that the trees only bloom every two/three years
  • Circus Brat: Scharlotta recalls that she was born to a circus family and performed various tricks and acrobatic stunts as a small girl. Eventually she was separated from parents and raised by a German woman, leaving her without any sort of "official" past—especially because she doesn't remember her parents' names.
  • Dances and Balls: There's one towards the end. Right after it's finished, Lopakhin tells Ranyevshkaya that he has purchased the orchard.
  • Driven to Suicide: The exact reason why Madame Ranyevskaya was fetched back to Russia by Anya and Scharlotta is this.
  • Everyone Can See It: Deconstructed. Everyone thinks that Lopakhin and Varya are deeply in love and a perfect match, with Ranyevskaya repeatedly telling the former that he should propose and every adult in the play teasing the latter about how she's "Mrs. Lopakhin." But while it's clear that Lopakhin and Varya are fond of each other as friends, they're not in love, and the only reason they're even thinking about marrying each other is because everyone is pressuring them into it; the most affection Lopakhin can muster is "I'm not against the idea," and Varya repeatedly mentions that what she really wants to do is join a convent. Ultimately, Lopakhin and Varya have one final and extremely awkward conversation that ends without a proposal.
  • Fatal Flaw: Ranyevskaya's is willful ignorance. Though she's aware of what's happening to her and her family, she simply cannot accept things as they are and insists on acting like she's still a rich aristocrat, even though she has no money. The other characters frequently bemoan her habits of purchasing expensive meals and giving huge sums to waitstaff and beggars. Several people, including Anya and Lopakhin, desperately try to shake her out of her spendthrift ways, but nothing breaks through. Ultimately, she's left penniless and homeless after Lopakhin purchases the estate.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Zigzagged with Gaev and Lyubov. Lyubov is actively throwing money away and refusing to accept the reality of their situation, making her the Foolish, while Gaev at least attempts to find solutions to the estate sale and actively tries to raise cash, making him the Responsible. However, Gaev is also far more of a Cloud Cuckoolander than Lyubov, who is Closer to Earth than he is, so it's easy to argue that she's the Responsible and he's the Foolish.
  • Fun Personified: Pishchik, save the last act. Although he has a money problem, he is the life of the party. A power player in making the audience think they're watching a looney-toons style comedy, Pishchik can be counted on to keep the good times rolling.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Ranyevskaya, specially due to the death of oldest son Gryscha, who drowned in a river and her suicide attempt.
  • Gratuitous French: Pishchik throws some French phrases as the ball begins.
  • Genre-Busting: As said above is a classic story about the first two productions: the first was very sad and melancholic (supported by director Stanislavski), and the audience left the theater deeply moved. The second, supported by Chekhov himself? The audience was laughing so hard the walls shook. So which is it, comedy or tragedy? None can say (though Word of God claims comedy).
  • Godzilla Threshold: Cutting down the titular cherry orchard and subdividing the land on it for rent proves to be one of these. Lopakhin knows that it's the absolute last thing that anyone wants to do, and it's implied that he's spent years looking for other possible solutions to the family's money troubles—but Ranyevskaya is completely broke, Gaev has exhausted every possible loan and line of credit he can, and the only other chance is appealing to a rich aunt who doesn't like Lyubov in the first place. Lopakhin ends up going through with buying the estate himself because there's no other way to save the family.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Ranyevskaya, Gaev, Pishchik
  • Innocently Insensitive: Lopakhin is extremely embarrassed by his past as an illiterate serf and does everything he can to distance himself from his origins. As such, Madame Ranyevskaya saying that he'd be a good match for Varya, who's also of lower-class birth, wounds him. Ranyevskaya thinks she's doing him a favor by pairing them up, but Lopakhin can't help but be insulted.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Raneyvskaya and Gaev refuse to accept the truth of their financial situation, instead acting as if everything will be miraculously saved. Lopakhin outright tells them every day that the only chance they have is selling the orchard and clearing it to build properties for lease, but they keep asking him for new solutions as if he's going to say something different. The play ends with Lopakhin buying the estate to enact the plan, forcing Raneyvskaya and Gaev to face reality.
  • It's All Junk: Ranyevskaya's estate and the orchard itself serve as a link to her happier childhood. In contrast, for Lopakhin and the other former peasants and serfs, it serves as a reminder of their miserable past. Ranyevskaya isn't really able to let go of the past until Lopakhin buys the estate in a mandatory auction and gets ready to chop down the orchard in order to put summer cottages there, forcing Ranevskaya to find happiness elsewhere.
  • Jerkass: Yasha the manservant.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Lopakhin constantly reminds the Ranevskaya family about their money problems and the looming estate sale, and is willing to cut down the famous cherry orchard on their estate to provide land for summer cottages that can be leased for a profit. The characters either treat Lopakhin with disdain or ignore him entirely, and he's certainly not polite about it—but he's also accurate in saying that they're going to be evicted if they don't do something, because they're completely out of cash and have no other way to raise funds. He also spends the entirety of the play desperately trying to sell them on the solution, but they don't listen until he buys the orchard and estate for himself, thus forcing them to acknowledge the reality of what's happening.
  • Last of His Kind: The Ranevskaya family as a whole serve as this symbolically. They represent the lingering aristocratic class of twentieth-century Russia: they have no money, no prospects, and no hope for the future, instead spending all of their time reminiscing about the past. They are the last of the landed gentry, and the play ends with them leaving the estate forever.
  • Love Triangle: Yepikhodov and Yascha have crushes on the maid Dunyasha. She leans more towards the latter.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: By the end of the play, Lopakhin, the grandson of a serf, has bought the estate; the orchard is being cut down; the family and servants are splitting up forever; and the Russian aristocracy has well and truly come to and end. It's lampshaded by Lopakhin after the auction: he tearfully consoles Madame Ranevskaya and remarks that they can never go back to how things used to be.
  • Plucky Girl: Anya
  • Old Retainer: Firs.
  • Only Sane Man: Varya.
  • Plucky Girl: Anya, who's spirited and hopeful even in the face of great despair. She's even the one who travels to Paris (albeit accompanied by a governess) to recover Madame Ranevskaya after her suicide attempt.
  • Self-Made Man: Yermolai Alekhseevich Lopajin became rich despite starting as peasant, as a direct contrast with Impoverished Patricians like Madame Ranevskaya, Gaiev or Simeonov-Pischik.
  • Something We Forgot: The play ends with the family leaving their house, accidentally locking the elderly Firs inside. It's strongly implied that he actually passes away on a couch that remains inside.
  • Staircase Tumble: One takes place in Act III. After a verbal spat with Ranyevskaya, Trofimov storms off... and this happens to him.
  • Tsundere: Varya, specially seen when she throws a tantrum and hits the door with her parasol... and then dissolves in awkward apologies as she sees that she has hit Lopakhin on the head.
  • The Idealist: Trofimov. Every word that comes out of his mouth drips with syrupy idealism. Anya, who has a huge crush on him, may have picked up on some of his ideas.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: At Act IV, Anya is not happy when she learns that Lopakhin wanted to start cutting down the orchard when the family is still in the estate. She calls him out and he orders for the work to be stopped.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Anya, at age 17, handles the whole plot as gracefully and maturely as she can. In fact, she fetched her mother back from Paris after she attempts to kill herself and then comforts her when she suffers an Heroic BSoD after learning that Lopakhin has brought the orchard.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Expressed by most of the other characters towards Varya and Lopakhin. They don't.