You are on page 1of 5

Study Guide for The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov (Translation by Emily Mann)

Directed by Ruthie Tutterow

School Performance: Friday, April 11 at 10:40
Where and when is the play set?
The action takes place on Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskayas estate, Russia, 1904.
What is the play about?
The Cherry Orchard, like many of Chekhovs plays, deals with Russian society
at a crossroads and the inability of these deeply human characters to be able
to move forward from their past.
The story concerns Lyubov Andreyevena Ranevskaya, an estate owner, who
has returned to her familys estate after five years abroad in Paris. We learn
that she has run off with her lover after the death of her youngest child, a
son. Lyubov is unable to reconcile her new social and financial status with
Lopakhin, a businessman whose family were formerly serfs on Ranevskayas
estate and who is still intimidated by her. She seems unable to deal with
reality or money, and eventually may lose the estate and the beautiful cherry
orchard on it.
What type of play is it?
The Cherry Orchard is an example of Realism, a theatrical style which
became popular in the late 1800s and is still popular today. In realism,
plotlines are linearthey follow a cause and effect sequence of events and
lead to a climactic scene. The acting in realistic plays is observablethe
actors should appear to be true to life and be believable in their roles.
However, The Cherry Orchard also has some Absurdist overtonesin
Absurdism, the central truth is that there is no logiclife is chaos. Some
characters, especially Charlotta and Firs, show this side of the writing in the
play. Realistic plays such as The Cherry Orchard deal with contemporary
social issues and problems.
What were some of the social issues of the time that are discussed in The
Cherry Orchard?

Russia had been ruled by a Tsar since the time of Ivan the Terrible (15301584.) Most Tsars held absolute rule over the nobles, who in turn ruled over
the serfs, or peasants who worked their land. By the time of Catherine the
Great (1729-1796) the aristocratic nobles were treating their serfs as slaves.
In the 1800s, these conventions began to come under attack. After a failed
attempt in 1825 to prevent the accession to the monarchy of Nicholas I, his

son, Alexander II, tried to assuage the growing dissent by freeing the serfs in
1861. However, this freedom did not come with any economic or social
change in the condition of the peasants. The characters in The Cherry
Orchard still keenly feel their social status and historical relationships.
However, a new working class (characterized by Lopakhin) and
revolutionaries (characterized by Trofimov) were beginning to organize at the
beginning of the20th century to challenge the old Tsarist monarchy for good.
Trofimov in particular, talks about the new future that is coming, and how the
injustices of the past will fuel the coming changes. The Cherry Orchard was
first produced in 1904. Russia was about to change dramatically. In 1905,
the events of Bloody Sunday turned the workers and peasants even more
against the Tsarist monarchy. By 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution led to a
socialist government. The aristocracy was forced to give up their property
after 1917all property became owned by the government. Nicholas II
abdicated the monarchy and was eventually executed. Russia entered the
Soviet era, becoming the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.)
Who wrote The Cherry Orchard?
The Cherry Orchard was written by Russian writer Anton Chekhov. Anton
Chekhov (1860-1904) has four major plays: The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The
Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard. He also was a writer of many short
Some of the events in The Cherry Orchard are reflective of Chekhovs life.
For example, Chekhovs father went bankrupt after building a new house, and
the family lived in poverty in Moscow. Chekhov boarded with a man who, like
Lopakhin, bought his fathers house. Chekhov felt many of the class issues
that affected his characters in The Cherry Orchard. Chekhov was affected by
tuberculosis and lived at an estate with a cherry orchard near Moscow, at
Melikhovo from 1892-1899.
Chekhov eventually worked his way through medical school, and so was a
doctor as well as a writer. He never made a lot of money as a doctorhe
treated the poor for free, and eventually contracted TB from his patients. He
wrote to earn extra money to help support his family. He died of
complications from TB in 1904, shortly after the first production of The Cherry
The characters in Chekhovs plays are usually the floundering aristocrats of
the 1880s and 1890s. Their realism is portrayed in the details of everyday
life. Often, the scenes are more about the subtext (the meaning behind the
lines) rather than what they are actually saying. Chekovian characters must
have inner life and truth in their actions.

Who are the characters in the play? (Descriptions from Wikipedia)

Madame Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya (Marian van Noppen)- a
landowner. Lyubov is the linchpin around which the characters revolve. A
commanding and popular figure, she represents the pride of the old
aristocracy, now fallen on hard times. Her confused feelings of love for her
old home, and sorrow at the scene of her son's death, give her an emotional
depth that keeps her from devolving into a mere aristocratic grotesque. Most
of her humor comes from her inability to understand financial or business
Anya - her daughter, aged 17 (Elizabeth Buxton) She undertakes the
journey to Paris to rescue her mother from her desperate situation at the age
of just 17. She is that rare character, a truly virtuous, strong, young female.
She is in love with Trofimov, and listens to his revolutionary ideas, whether
she is actually taking them in or not.
Varya - her adopted daughter, aged 24 (Anne McCarty) Varya creates one of
the mysteries of the play: why did Lyubov adopt her? Is she the illegitimate
child of her late husband? Is she the unacknowledged daughter of Gayev?
Varya is deeply religious, and very serious, as well as being very controlling
towards other characters. She has a troubled relationship with Lopakhin, to
whom she is romantically linked, but of whom she disapproves.
Leonid Andreyevich Gayev - brother of Lyubov (Will Pugh) One of the
more obviously comic characters, Gayev is a talkative eccentric. His
addiction to billiards (often manifesting itself at times of discomfort) is
symbolic of the aristocracy's decadent life of leisure, which renders them
impotent in the face of change. Gayev tries hard to save his family and
estate, but ultimately, as an aristocrat, lacks the drive.
Yermolai Lopakhin - a merchant (Patrick Robinson) Lopakhin is by far the
richest character in the play, but comes from the lowest social class. This
contrast defines his character: he is enjoying living the high life, but at the
same time is uncomfortably conscious of his low beginnings and obsession
with business. Often portrayed as an unpleasant character because of his
greedy tendencies, and ultimate betrayal of the Gayev family, there is
nothing in the play to suggest this: he works strenuously to help the Gayevs,
but to no avail. Lopakhin represents the new middle class in Russia, one of
many threats to the old aristocratic way of doing things.
Petya Trofimov - a student (Edwin Brown) Trofimov, Anya's love interest, is
depicted as the "eternal" (or in some translations "wandering") student. An
impassioned left-wing political commentator, he represents the rising tide of

reformist political opinion in Russia, which struggled to find its place within
the authoritarian Czarist autocracy.
Boris Simeonov-Pishchik - a landowner (Cameron Milani) Another old
aristocrat, whose own estate has hit hard times. He is constantly discussing
new business ventures that may save him, or badgering Lyubov for a loan.
His character embodies the irony of the aristocracy's position: despite his
financial peril, he spends the play relaxing and socializing with the Gayevs.
Charlotta Ivanovna - a governess (Jenny Kaplan) By far the most eccentric
character, Charlotta is the only governess the Gayevs could afford to provide
a companion for Anya. She is a melancholy figure, taken in by a German
woman without any real knowledge of whom her Circus Entertainer Parents
were. She performs card tricks and ventriloquism at the party in the third act,
and accepts the loss of her station when the family disbands with
Yepikhodov - a clerk (Lee Graves) The Gayev's estate clerk is also another
source of comedy. He is unfortunate and clumsy in the extreme, earning him
an insulting nickname of "Twenty-Two Misfortunes" (This nickname varies
according to the translation). He considers himself to be in love with
Dunyasha, whom he has asked to marry him.
Dunyasha - a housemaid (Anna Dorsett) Like Lopakhin, she is another
example of the social mobility in Russia at the time. A peasant who is
employed as the Gayev's chambermaid, Dunyasha is an attention seeker,
making big scenes, and dressing as a lady, to show herself off. She is in some
respects representative of the aristocracy's impotence, as a lowly
chambermaid would not normally have the freedom to dress like a lady and
flirt with the manservants. She is in love with Yasha.
Firs - a manservant, aged 87 (Max Roehrig) An aging eccentric, Firs
considers the emancipation of the Russian serfs to be a disaster, and talks
nostalgically of the old days, when everybody admired their masters and
owners, such as Gayev's parents and grandparents. His madness and
harmlessness are a source of much of the play's poignancy, symbolizing the
decay of the old order into muttering madness.
Yasha - a young manservant (Nathan Vercaemert) The play's only truly
unpleasant character, Yasha represents the new, disaffected Russian
generation, who dislike the staid old ways, and are effectively the origins of
the revolution. A rude, inconsiderate and predatory young man who wears
cheap cologne, Yasha, like Dunyasha and Charlotta, is the best the Gayevs
can afford. He is in conflict with Yepikhodov for the affections of Dunyasha,
with whose affections he toys with.

Ensemble: Made up of servants (Acts 1 & 4) and guests (Act 3.) (Billy Allen,
Sarah Cassell, Jenna Schleien, BJ Williams, Lauren Freedman, Jake Pulitzer,
Allie Glenn) Their dancing helps to enhance the despondency of the denial of
the aristocracys fate, and particularly Lyubovs denial of her financial state in
act 3. The additional servants help to set the excitement of Lyubovs arrival
in act 1 and the departure from the town in act 4.
A Vagrant (Jake Pulitzer) A passer-by who interrupts and insults the Gayevs
as they laze around on the Gayevs' estate during Act II. He is symbolic of the
intrusion of new ideologies and social movements that infringed on the
aristocracy's peace in Russia at the turn of the 20th century.
The Stationmaster (BJ Williams) This official attends the Gayevs' party in
Act III. His is a symbol of the deprecation of the aristocracy in 1900s Russia Firs comments that, whereas once they had barons and lords at the ball, now
it's the postman and the stationmaster, and even they come only to be polite.
What are some guidelines for attending a play?

Do not talk during a live performance. It annoys those near you as well as
the actors, who have put a lot of effort and many, many hours into preparing
this performance.
Turn off and put away all cell phones. A ringing phone can be disasterously
distracting. Even checking your cell phone during a show is distracting, since
all those around you can see the light.
Show respect to the actors by applauding at act breaks, and responding
appropriately (dont laugh during a serious scene, for example.) A play is not
the same as attending an athletic eventyelling your friends name or
shouting is not appropriate.
Do not get up and move around during the performance. Unless it is an
emergency, the only appropriate time to excuse yourself is during an act
break or intermission. We will take a 5 minute stretch break between acts
during the school performance.
Come with an open mind. Regardless of the reason that you are coming to
see the play, be open to the possibility that you can be moved and
entertained by it.