It’s on the summer reading list. This is the third time
I’ve read it–once in 1989, in 1995, and last night. If I were
to name one thing to identify this play it would be the sound
of the axe cutting down a cherry tree.
Anton Chekhov was a Russian short story writer and playwright.
He had an interesting life which you can read about on the internet.
He had to help support his family and wrote at a young age for
magazines. One of his novel ways of earning money (no pun
intended) was to catch and sell goldfinches!
Unfortunately he died at a young age of 44 of tuberculosis. Even as a young doctor, he wasn’t aware of the severity of his illness. But he left a slew of short stories and plays that we can read and enjoy.
One of the interesting things that always crops up when I read something
written by a Russian is—which translation should I read?
The one I read this time around is a book of Chekhov : The Four Major
Plays translated by Curt Columbus. As a theater director, he writes in
the vein of how the play might be portrayed today to American audiences.
I don’t know if I liked his translation especially, or not, but I only
occasionally found it jarring. But what really does get my goat is that
he names the four plays: Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and
Cherry Orchard. It took me a while to realize that the titles should
have included “the” for The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard. I think
that’s sloppy. And for all I know I may have issues with the rest when
I read them. But for today—-it’s a review about The Cherry Orchard.
There are lots of characters in this play! It helps to have a little cheat
card with names to start off the reading–but it gets easier very fast.
You’ll get to know them well. Which part would you hope to play?
The setting is an old wealthy estate with a grand cherry orchard. The
cherry trees are in bloom–imagine! The family has been away for
several years and have returned, happy to see the old places, talk
about the old memories.
Unfortunately hard times have made the family just about destitute,
and the estate and orchard will have to be sold. It is suggested, by
a former slave of the estate who has done well–a new rich citizen of
Russia–, that the orchard be cut down and the land used for the
establishment of many summer cottages for tourists.
It is in this play that a rifle appears at the beginning of Act II but
never plays a part otherwise in the play. In Chekhov’s own words–
well known to writers:
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
I guess he forgot his own good advice–or maybe it was used as a
ploy to second guess an ending.
The book photographed is one of my old copies and is translated
by Avrahm Yarmolinsky. I’ve been browsing through it a little to
see if I can find differences in the feel of the translation. Fun.