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December 15, 2023

Anton Chekhov In Five Plays


A playwright and master of the modern short story, Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) was a pioneer of the late 19th-century Russian school of realism. With a hyper-realistic take on Russian countryside life, Chekhov crafted plays with a tragicomic view on the monotony of rural life and the decline of the Russian aristocracy. He eloquently and accurately revealed his characters’ hidden motivations by taking a deep dive into their inner lives. Dismissing intricate storylines and tidy resolutions, Chekhov focused on seemingly insignificant details, achieving a deeper realism and creating a unique lyrical mood.

Here are five examples of Chekhov’s work, from an early play to his most celebrated stage works.

Ivanov (1887)

Ivanov, the first full play Chekhov completed, was – according to the playwright – completed in ten days. The play was written at the suggestion of Fiodor Korsh, the theatre manager of the Korsh Theatre in Moscow, which specialized in light comedy. Ivanov is not a humorous play, however. In fact, the four-act drama is possibly the darkest work the playwright wrote, treading a fine line between broad comedy and tragic melodrama. The play’s premiere was problematic: With little to no rehearsal time, the actors were unable to memorize all of their the lines. According to Chekhov, they got through the first performance “by prompter and inner conviction.”

The story follows a young estate owner, Ivanov, who has fallen out of love with his sick wife and begins an affair with his neighbor Sasha, the daughter of the Lebedevs, to whom he owes money. Eventually, his wife and her doctor accuse him of being a coldhearted fortune hunter and Ivanov’s choices lead to a tragic conclusion. Like Chekhov’s 1889 novella A Dreary Story, Ivanov examines the experiences of those who are physically or psychologically ill, serving as a gentle reminder that the author was a licensed physician who continued to practice medicine throughout his life.

These English translations of the play are available for licensing from Concord Theatricals:

  • Ivanov, translated by David Hare (US/UK)
  • Ivanov, translated and adapted by Yasen Peyankov and Peter Christensen (US)

The Seagull (1896)

In The Seagull, a famous actress named Arkadina presides over a household riven by desperate love, dreams of success and dread of failure. Arkadina’s son Konstantin, a writer, loves the young actress Nina, who is transfixed by the fame of Arkadina’s lover Trigorin, also a writer. All four go their separate ways, but two years later they are reunited at the same estate, reviving their romantic and artistic conflicts.

MEDVEDENKO: Why do you always wear black?
MASHA: I’m in mourning for my life. I’m unhappy.

The Seagull (Frayn), Act 1

Chekhov’s writing allows the audience to connect with the characters while remaining detached from them. Chekhov said, “I will describe life to you truthfully, and you will see in it what you have not seen before – its divergence from the norm, its contradictions.”

These English translations of the play are available for licensing from Concord Theatricals:

  • The Seagull, adapted by Robert Brustein (US)
  • The Seagull, adapted by Martin Crimp (UK)
  • The Seagull, adapted by Michael Frayn (US/UK)
  • The Seagull, adapted by David Iliffe (UK)
  • The Seagull, adapted by Mike Poulton (UK)
  • The Seagull, adapted by Tom Stoppard (US/UK)
  • The Seagull, adapted by Stark Young (US)

Uncle Vanya (1899)

The only one of Chekhov’s late plays to be published before it was performed, Uncle Vanya was also the only one to premiere in the provinces before opening in Moscow. Set on a country estate in late 19th-century Russia, the play is, in part, a study of the fatigue – the aimlessness and hopelessness – of Russian middle-class provincial life. The plot is centered on two obsessive love affairs that lead nowhere, and a flirtation that ultimately brings disaster. Mixing the tragic and the absurd in a form that allows for ambiguity and contradiction, Uncle Vanya has been deemed “the first modernist play” (David Lan).

ASTROV: You know, I used to think that being a creep meant you were sick or abnormal, but lately I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re all creeps. Everyone in the world, behaving naturally, is a complete creep.

Uncle Vanya (Baker), Act 4

The work maintains a delicate balance between the humor of the ludicrousness of human existence and Chekhov’s compassion for those who suffer from immoral injustices. Critics, amateur dramatic groups and theatregoers continue to fall in love with the rich, bittersweet and deeply human characters in the play.

These English translations of the play are available for licensing from Concord Theatricals:

  • Uncle Vanya, adapted by Annie Baker and Margarita Shalina (US)
  • Uncle Vanya, adapted by Michael Frayn (US/UK)
  • Uncle Vanya, adapted by Brian Friel (UK)
  • Uncle Vanya, adapted by David Mamet (US)
  • Uncle Vanya, adapted by Mike Poulton (UK)
  • Uncle Vanya, adapted by Stark Young (US)
  • Uncle Victor, by Rosary Hartel O’Neill (US)

Three Sisters (1901)

One of Chekhov’s greatest artistic contributions was his striking observation of Russian society. The majority of his characters are members of the upper class who lost their privilege after the liberation of the Serbs in the late 19th century. They either do nothing all day but watch their fortunes decline, or have to make ends meet through hard work. Their attitudes are a mixture of nostalgia and self-importance; they long for the disappearing world of servants and rural leisure, and pass quick judgment on their own moral superiority.

This is highlighted most effectively in Three Sisters, set in an unnamed provincial Russian town. The three sisters of the title – school teacher Olga, unhappily married Masha and idealistic Irina – yearn to return to Moscow, the city of their childhood. Imagining that their lives will be transformed and fulfilled there, they remain exiled in time and in place. One of Chekhov’s most frequently performed plays, Three Sisters is a vivid portrait of a family grappling with the bittersweet distance between reality and dreams.

These English translations of the play are available for licensing from Concord Theatricals:

  • Three Sisters, adapted by Samuel Adamson (UK)
  • The Sisters, by Richard Alfieri (US)
  • Three Sisters Two, by Reza De Wet (US/UK)
  • Three Sisters, adapted by Michael Frayn (US/UK)
  • Three Sisters, adapted by Brian Friel (UK)
  • Three Sisters, adapted by Madeleine George (US/UK)
  • Three Sisters, adapted by Christopher Hampton (UK)
  • Three Sisters, adapted by Tracy Letts (US/UK)
  • The Three Sisters, adapted by David Mamet (US)
  • Three Sisters, adapted by Mike Poulton (US/UK)
  • Three Sisters, adapted by Sarah Ruhl (US/UK)
  • Three Sisters, adapted by Jean-Claude van Itallie (US)
  • The Three Sisters, adapted by Stark Young, Catherine Alexander Burland and Richard O’Connell (US)

The Cherry Orchard (1904)

In Chekhov’s final play, an impoverished landowning family refuses to face the fact that their estate is about to be auctioned off. Lopakhin, a local merchant, presents numerous options to save the estate, including cutting down the family’s prized cherry orchard. But the family is stricken with denial. The Cherry Orchard charts the precipitous descent of a wealthy family, offering a bold meditation on social change and bourgeois materialism.

GAEV: Whenever you have a lot of different remedies prescribed for some disease, it means there’s no cure.

The Cherry Orchard (Stoppard), Act 1

Despite the play’s dour narrative, Chekhov insisted that The Cherry Orchard be played as a comedy, or even a vaudeville. Stanislavsky disagreed, citing the tragic elements of the play, particularly the final act’s depiction of the Ranevskaya family’s decline. But the play undoubtedly has a self-mocking quality, highlighting the meaninglessness and absurdity of the characters’ actions though nuanced dialogue, a lightness of pace, and irony.

These English translations of the play are available for licensing from Concord Theatricals:

  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Samuel Adamson (UK)
  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Robert Brustein (US)
  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Michael Frayn (US/UK)
  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Jean-Claude van Itallie (US)
  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by David Lan (UK)
  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by David Mamet (US)
  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Mike Poulton (UK)
  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Tom Stoppard (US)
  • The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Stark Young (US)

Anton Chekhov’s stage works, novels and novellas continue to influence the views and writings of contemporary playwrights, writers and audiences. He revolutionized theatre through tragicomedy, exposing and exploring the mundanity of everyday life with nuance and subtlety.

Notably excluded from this list are the following stage works:

  • Wild Honey (1878) (US/UK)
  • On the High Road (1884)
  • On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco (1886)
  • Swansong (1887)
  • The Bear (1888) (US/UK)
  • A Marriage Proposal (1889) (US)
  • A Tragedian in Spite of Himself (1889)
  • The Wedding (1889)
  • Tatiana Repina (1889)
  • The Night Before the Trial (the 1890s)
  • The Festivities or The Anniversary (1891)

To license a production of Anton Chekhov’s work, visit the Concord Theatricals website in the US or UK.