Four Plays and Three Jokes
Three Jokes: The Bear, The Proposal, & The Anniversary
This volume offers lively and accurate translations of Chekhov's major plays and one-acts (complete contents listed below) along with a superb Introduction focused on the plays' remarkably enduring power to elicit the most widely divergent of responses, the life of the playwright in its historical and aesthetic contexts, suggestions for reading the plays "under a microscope," and notes designed to bring Chekhov's world into immediate focus--everything needed to examine his drama with fresh eyes and on its own artistic terms.
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This is a great volume to become acquainted with Chekhov, the great Russian author who was better known for his short stories. What stands out for me are the introduction, The Seagull, and The Cherry Orchard. In the introduction, Sharon Carnicke presents a Chekhov whose passion for life was matched only by his impatience in writing. A very prolific author, Chekhov would accomplish much by 30, yet he was criticized for moving too fast. Still, Carnicke offers a personal insight into the author which helps to explain his actions: fight with tuberculosis, boredom in the countryside, love of Olga Knipper one of his lead actresses, lackluster success in language studies, and financial support of his family. These personal facets of Chekhov's life informed his creation.
The two plays which stand out are The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard. The first short play concerns the pettiness of life in a resort and how we often transpose our own experiences onto our personal expectations of life. A young woman is like a "seagull" in that she is fragile and takes in air and is beautiful in flight--for a short time. When the seagull dies and is stuffed, it is a mere memento of happier times. The second play is like an old friend. I read it in middle school, and it resonates with my sense of youth--then and now--and how we all must deal with the lifelong challenge of boredom and the "threat" of loneliness. A once beautiful middle-aged actress must sell a beloved cherry orchard to repay her debts. She finally sells the land and house to a man who honors not the orchard but the profit that its land will bring him. Irony and miscommunication abound. Both plays are true gems in their call for our own reflection of life and its many challenges. We will surely suffer if we do not confront them.