Friday, May 9, 2014

"The Cherry Orchard"

One of the most intriguing aspects of teaching world literature is learning about the authors.  I have discovered an unexpected trend -- many of the authors studied medicine, and some were practicing doctors, before they turned to writing.  Anton Chekhov is one example.  He wrote "medicine is my legal wife . . . literature is my mistress."  An unfortunate similarity among authors is their early death  - Chekhov was only 44 years old when he died (slightly older than Jane Austen at her death).  Another common thread is many of the authors had parents who read to them, or told them fabricated stories.  One can usually find glimpses of the adult author in the child.  As a child, Chekhov spent all his money on tickets to the theater!

Chekhov wrote,“you say you have cried at my plays…But this is not why I wrote them, it was Stanislavsky [Russian actor and director] who turned them into cry-babies.I simply wanted to say to people honestly: “Understand, how bad and boring your lives are!” People should understand this and…create themselves another and better life. What is here to cry about?”

In "The Cherry Orchard" an impoverished noble family is forced to sell their orchard and their home.  They are in denial and do not take the measures needed to hold onto the land -- basically develop the land for cottages (in today's vernacular it would mean selling the land to build condos).  The play shows the rise of the bourgeois middle class and the collapse of the upper class.  It has been viewed as both a drama and comedy, though Chekhov himself viewed it as a comedy, and there are many funny, eccentric characters populating the play. At the end of the play, the family is moving out and they have locked up the house.  Unfortunately, they locked the old butler in the house, and as he decides to "take a nap" since he can't get out of the house, the sound of the cherry orchard being chopped down can be heard.  Is this funny or tragic??

My class enjoyed the play.  The hardest part was learning the many characters' names, so I simplified the names and provided nicknames:

Lubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya - Lou  (Generous and loving)
Ermolai Lopakhin - Lop   (Peasant turned businessman)
Trofimov – Prof Trof (Eternal student)
Leonid Andreyevich Gaev – Gaev (the Big Baby)
Boris Semyonov-Pischik – Piss (Begging landowner – comic relief)
Semyon Epikhodov – Epi  (2 and 20 troubles – comic accountant)

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