Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Most Hilarious Play Ever Written!

The laughs are never ending in this latest play by Anton Chekhov.  The Cherry Orchard will have you rolling in the aisles.  Everything needed to create a piece of comedic genius is there -dead sons, betrayal, death, debt, loss of a beloved family home, and weeping.
Oh god, the weeping. 

I'm sorry, I don't mean to be sarcastic, and I don't mean to sound uneducated.  I know that Anton Chekhov is kind of a big deal, that he's responsible for some major classics, and that he made changes which contributed to the evolution of the modern short story.  He's a genius. Blah blah blah. Don't get me wrong,  I love reading.  I like "the classics".
But my god, reading The Cherry Orchard made me want to stab someone in the face.
I'll give you a quick outline:
 It's the turn of the 20th century, and there's a family (because Russian names work differently I'll just refer to them as the Andreievs), who live on this big BIG piece of land, that has a Cherry Orchard on it (hey! That's the title of the play!).  They're rich, or at least they used to be.  But see, about 40 years ago the serfs (not to be confused with smurfs) were all emancipated (aka all the almost-slaves who worked for the rich were set free).  As a result, the rich (as all good Soviet Russians know) are completely helpless, and without the cheap labor they can't manage their giant estates, and therefore begin to become impoverished.
Anyway, the family is really attached to this orchard. But unless they can come up with a whole bunch of money the entire property will be auctioned off in a few months (mortgage payments etc).   A close family friend suggests a plan to save the estate -that part of the huge (and mostly useless) cherry orchard be developed into summer houses for tourists.   This plan is brilliant -it would save the house, and eventually turn a profit.
But of course the stupid, useless rich people refuse.
Very long story short, 4 Acts and a lot of weeping later, the close family friend (who, by the way, is the son of a serf who used to work for the Andreievs) has purchased the estate, and is chopping down the orchard.  Everyone leaves the estate for ever, unhappy or bitter, except for an old servant named Firs whose death ends the play.
Sounds hilarious, doesn't it?!  No.  It's not.  But the thing that baffles me is that Anton Chekhov intended for it to be a comedy.  Maybe it's just that classic Russian sense of humor, or maybe Chekhov hated rich people (a lot of the events within the play reflect events that happened to Chekhov)...Or maybe he predicted the rise of the Soviet Union, and wanted to write a play that he knew would be approved by the government in years to come, and would be performed often to ensure that audiences would appreciate that any way of life except communism results in nothing but sadness and death.
 Thankfully the director (Constantin Stanislavsky -I'll post on him later, he's kind of a huge deal when it comes to acting) realised it was a tragedy, and directed it as such.  Boy, did Chekhov hate that. He claimed that Stanislavsky had  "ruined" his play.

I don't know about "ruin"...although maybe if The Cherry Orchard was performed as a pantomime, with a lot of slapstick and the occasional custard pie in the face for good measure, it would be a lot more bearable.

The play has a lot of different themes...the most obvious being Social Change (Russia has had a lot of that in the last 100-150 years). There's the fall of the aristocracy and their futile attempts to maintain their position, and then there's the rise of the bourgeoisie and their futile attempts to find meaning in newfound materialism.
The cherry orchard itself has meaning too -although it's different for each character so I'm not going to go into that.  But I will say that although they're all so attached to the dratted thing, it doesn't bring any of them any happiness -only bitter memories, or weird visions of dead people, or drunken rages.

And Dr. Denner, what's the deal with the sound of the snapping string?  I don't get it.

So yeah...that's my review of The Cherry Orchard, the fourth of Anton Chekhov's classic plays.  It was first performed in 1904, and he died later that year.

It's not enjoyable to read. I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

LiveBreatheMusic said...

I had to read that in high school. I understand. haha Definitely not a feel good show. I'm with Stanislavsky on that one... (He's the man.)