Chekhov’s great sad comedy premiered in Moscow on this day (17 January) in 1904. A devastating satire on the necessity to change and its collision with people impervious to change, it is the first great 20th century play, hugely influential in its grand theme of entropy (and we add, with as much modesty as possible, that the broken, reverberating lute string terminating Acts II and IV – “The distant sound is heard, as if from the sky, of a breaking string, dying away sadly” – inspired the champagne cork trope in The Varnished Culture‘s short play, Jenny Had it Coming.)
Extract from conclusion to Act III:
‘PISCHIN. What happened? Come on, tell us!
LUBOV. Is the cherry orchard sold?
LOPAKHIN. It is sold.
LUBOV. Who bought it?
LOPAKHIN. I bought it.
LUBOV ANDREYEVNA is overwhelmed; she would fall if she were not standing by an armchair and a table. VARYA takes her keys off her belt, throws them on the floor, into the middle of the room and goes out.
LOPAKHIN. I bought it! Wait, ladies and gentlemen, please, my head’s going round, I can’t talk. . . . [Laughs] When we got to the sale, Deriganov was there already. Leonid Andreyevitch had only fifteen thousand roubles, and Deriganov offered thirty thousand on top of the mortgage to begin with. I saw how matters were, so I grabbed hold of him and bid forty. He went up to forty-five, I offered fifty-five. That means he went up by fives and I went up by tens. . . . Well, it came to an end. I bid ninety more than the mortgage; and it stayed with me. The cherry orchard is mine now, mine! [Roars with laughter] My God, my God, the cherry orchard’s mine! Tell me I’m drunk, or mad, or dreaming. . . . [Stamps his feet] Don’t laugh at me! If my father and grandfather rose from their graves and looked at the whole affair, and saw how their Ermolai, their beaten and uneducated Ermolai, who used to run barefoot in the winter, how that very Ermolai has bought an estate, which is the most beautiful thing in the world! I’ve bought the estate where my grandfather and my father were slaves, where they weren’t even allowed into the kitchen. I’m asleep, it’s only a dream, an illusion. . . . It’s the fruit of imagination, wrapped in the fog of the unknown. . . . [Picks up the keys, nicely smiling] She threw down the keys, she wanted to show she was no longer mistress here. . . . [Jingles keys] Well, it’s all one! [Hears the band tuning up] Eh, musicians, play, I want to hear you! Come and look at Ermolai Lopakhin laying his axe to the cherry orchard, come and look at the trees falling! We’ll build villas here, and our grandsons and great-grandsons will see a new life here. . . . Play on, music! [The band plays. LUBOV ANDREYEVNA sinks into a chair and weeps bitterly.LOPAKHIN continues reproachfully] Why then, why didn’t you take my advice? My poor, dear woman, you can’t go back now. [Weeps] Oh, if only the whole thing was done with, if only our uneven, unhappy life were changed!
PISCHIN. [Takes his arm; in an undertone] She’s crying. Let’s go into the drawing-room and leave her by herself . . . come on. . . . [Takes his arm and leads him out.]
LOPAKHIN. What’s that? Bandsmen, play nicely! Go on, do just as I want you to! [Ironically] The new owner, the owner of the cherry orchard is coming! [He accidentally knocks up against a little table and nearly upsets the candelabra] I can pay for everything! [Exit with PISCHIN]
In the reception-room and the drawing-room nobody remains except LUBOV ANDREYEVNA, who sits huddled up and weeping bitterly. The band plays softly. ANYA and TROFIMOV come in quickly. ANYA goes up to her mother and goes on her knees in front of her. TROFIMOV stands at the drawing-room entrance.
ANYA. Mother! mother, are you crying? My dear, kind, good mother, my beautiful mother, I love you! Bless you! The cherry orchard is sold, we’ve got it no longer, it’s true, true, but don’t cry mother, you’ve still got your life before you, you’ve still your beautiful pure soul . . . Come with me, come, dear, away from here, come! We’ll plant a new garden, finer than this, and you’ll see it, and you’ll understand, and deep joy, gentle joy will sink into your soul, like the evening sun, and you’ll smile, mother! Come, dear, let’s go!’[COURTESY: http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/ac/chorch.htm]