The Cherry Orchard: Catastrophe and Comedy Hardcover – Apr 1994
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From the Back Cover
For decades after its first performance in 1904, Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard fomented controversy among producers, actors, critics, and audiences. Along with its intrinsic textual richness, linguistic power, and subtlety, the play is saturated with many different, apparently incompatible, elements; it constantly shifts from comedy to pathos, its language concomitantly oscillating from music hall vulgarity to prose poetry. Chekhov assigned a personal way of speaking to each character, divorcing consequence from action, cause from effect. Despite the controversy generated by its paradoxical nature, however, The Cherry Orchard has become a milestone in twentieth-century drama. In this astute analysis of Chekhov's last play, Donald Rayfield argues that The Cherry Orchard can be best understood when read as a culmination of the dramatist's major plays, particularly The Seagull (1896) and Three Sisters (1901). Stressing that Chekhov the playwright is inseparable from Chekhov the story writer, Rayfield points up instances in which the author "reuses" material from such classic stories as "A Visit to Friends", "Panpipes", "The Black Monk", and "The Bride". An engaging history of the how the play came to be - complete with citations from Chekhov's notebooks to show the parallels between his life and the lives of his characters - amplifies Rayfield's dissemination of the dramatist's themes and stylistics technique. Rayfield further uses Chekhov's letters to and from those involved in the initial production - the Moscow Arts Theater director Konstantin Stanislavsky; Chekhov's wife, the actress Olga Knipper; and various of Chekhov's contemporaries in the theater - to chronicle the play'sevolution. The apparent contradiction of a play that is simultaneously comic and tragic is, Rayfield concludes, a fact of the modernist drama of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Antonin Artaud. Rayfield's concise analysis is an essential companion to any reading of The Cherry Orchard, as it delineates the play's seminal role in the evolution of twentieth-century theater and its crucial position in Russian cultural history as both the culmination of all realist nineteenth-century fiction and the first masterpiece of a new, arguably symbolist or absurdist, literature. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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