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The Essential Plays

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,513 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
Because Chekhov’s plays convey the universally recognizable, sometimes comic, sometimes dramatic, frustrations of decent people trying to make sense of their lives, they remain as fresh and vigorous as when they were written a century ago. Gathered here in superb new renderings by one of the most highly regarded translators of our time—versions that have been staged throug ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 19th 2003 by Modern Library (first published 1904)
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This edition has a good, thorough, introduction as well as a very useful note on the translation. As Frayn puts it in the note on the translation knowing Russian and being a playwright is an advantage in translating Chekhov's plays, and who would have thought that - an amazing idea.

Reading the plays for the first time in many years the irony comes through very strongly, but maybe that's just one of the strengths of this translation which, in British English at least, comes across as easy and nat
Dec 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Warm-blooded humans
December of Drama 2015, days 28-31

Let's tackle these one by one.


"You feared a lonely death
Like a lake leaves you alone in her depths."
--bodyache, by Purity Ring

So a lot of admirers of Chekhov praise him for his success in "direct" and "honest" drama, and his instigation of a new era or new forms in drama, and I'd agree with all that. But I think what's lost in the conversation is the content, the ideas he incorporated in the plays themselves. There is a personally resonant kind of pessimi
Vilja / Kirjaneito
Vain Kirsikkatarha luettu.
I'm not honestly "rating" a set of plays by Chekhov–it seems almost futile to rate a set of plays by Chekhov, like my 1 star or 5 star review is going to make or break his reputation. However, I do want to give someone the translation comparison that I was scouring the internet for, so I need a placeholder rating for this review. Side-by-side comparison of an early monologue in The Three Sisters from Senelick and Rocamora (no spoilers), plus a few additional lines that stood out to me when I was ...more
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nov 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had an audition for 'Cherry Orchard' so I thought I would read all four major plays to check off Chekhov from my list.
I liked these a lot better than I thought I would, but this is partly because I had tried to read them before in a different translation and just couldn't maintain interest. These are pretty new translations by Carol Rocamora and they read pretty well. I felt like I could understand what was happening a little better, and the humor came out more. I think I like 'Uncle Vanya' t
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
If modern theatre is considered an intellectual pastime not fit for the consumption of the casual viewer, then Tchékhov's plays strike at the heart of drama's subtetlies. And rightly so for the plays, filled with undersayings, carve a complex structure out of the amalgam of thoughts and feelings that litter the human psyche.
It would be unfair, though, to describe the pieces as an unintelligible rant. In fact, the plots and characters are robust and strongly developed and despite the apparent may
Diana Polansky
Mar 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chekhov is a master.

Carol Rocamora rocks. I had her as a professor twice. She is so extraordinarily passionate about Russian literature that she seemed to become 30-40 years younger while teaching...and when she talked about Checkhov's dacha, I was able to "see" it.

The only thing I don't like about this translation is that though Carol retains Chekhov's poetry, her translation is a little too "American colloquial" at times. If I spoke Russian, I could explain this in detail, but as my only claim
Feb 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

These plays move me in a way which I can't describe. Or, rather, I probably could but it would be endless and personal and boring.

I think this is modern suburbia in embryo; it is also, of course, seeped in "The Russian Character."

I love Dostoevsky and Tolstoy with a deep passion but there's really no one quite like Chekhov. For that thin tissue of humanity billowing in the wind over the void "thing" he's the one you want.

How much life do we lose, in living? How much have we lost already?

Aug 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only read "The Seagull" this time around. Have read "The Cherry Orchard" and "Uncle Vanya" previously. Will have to get to "Three Sisters" another day.

One thing I liked was that this was an up-to-date American translation. No musty period pieces here. This helped bring out the farcial aspects of the play. After all, Chekhov himself called it "A Comedy in Four Acts." Plus, "The Seagull" contains (part of) a play within the play, which is very easy to mock.

Overall, not as strong as his later wor
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've lived with these plays since college, and revisit them through live theater or film. Just watched The Sea Gull directed by Sidney Lumet, with Vanessa Redgrave, James Mason, David Warner - extraordinary! Vanya on 42nd Street with Wallace Shawn and Julianne Moore is a brilliant take on Uncle Vanya. Sheer genius, I never tire of the insights and perfect use of language in these plays.
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it
The Seagull

A pretty good play, that double twist at the end of the play would be amazing to see acted out.

This seems like a normal enough play, in that artists seem continually worried about artistic integrity. The introduction of the book suggested that Nina is the character who grows the most, but I'm not so convinced. It's true that she is pursuing her passion to be an artist, but it is without support or cultivation. She does have some talent, but she doesn't nurture it. She threw herself i
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
So I didn't read this exact book, it was actually a really old copy of just his four greatest plays (trivia: can you name them?) Obviously the Cherry Orchard (I know you got that, Ms. Daniels), and The Sea Gull, Uncle Vanya, and 3 Sisters. What I really liked what that Checkov gives you a brief glance into realistic human behavior, and at different points in the drama, one character or another will step back and say, "What is life all about anyway? Why are we living this way? Can't we change any ...more
Eliza Malakoff
Feb 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-final

"I love him (Trigorin)! I love him even more than before...A subject for a short story...I love him, I love him passionately, I love him to despair. It was nice in old days, Kostya! Do you remember? How clear, warm, joyous and pure life was, what feelings we had - feelings like tender, exquisite flowers...Do you remember?"

This is a beautiful piece of dialogue that captures how damaged Nina is. She loves Trigorin and wishes for a time when she did not, when she was younger and more naiv
I'm reading these plays to prepare for an acting class I will be taking which will focus on the work of Chekhov. I'm actually listening to these on audible -- which are recordings of live performances. In addition, I listened to an audible recording of one of Chekhov's best short stories, In the Ravine, by Kenneth Brannagh.

Three Sisters: Since I listened to a recording of a performance, I wasn't fully successful at keeping all of the characters straight, but I was able to see some of the themes
Jan 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's good to read a book that is more than simple entertainment. These plays are filled with humor (albeit dry, Russian humor) and poverty and social struggles.
I used Sparknotes to get others' ideas regarding Seagull. I tried to just breeze through Three Sisters, but didn't get into it at all. I decided to take notes on the characters in Cherry Orchard and read Sparknotes for themes, etc. The extra work on Cherry Orchard paid off. Yesterday, I met with some city officials regarding a property in
Jan 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
Il gabbiano
TRIGORIN: (fra sé) Se un giorno avrai bisogno della mia vita, vieni e prendila.

Zio Vanja
SONJA: Zio Vanja, vivremo. Vivremo una lunga, lunga fila di giorni, di lente serate: sopporteremo pazientemente le prove che il destino ci manderà; lavoreremo per gli altri. [...] Riposeremo. Sentiremo gli angeli, vedremo il cielo che sfolgorerà di diamanti, vedremo tutto il male della terra e tutte le nostre sofferenze annegare nella misericordia che inonderà il mondo...e la nostra vita diventerà
Jul 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2013
Quisiera que los rusos no tuvieran esa manía de tener 5 nombres diferentes para cada personaje. Entiendo que así sea su cultura o costumbre o lo que sea pero me es algo frustrante que apenas me sepa los nombres de cada personaje y sepa diferenciarlos, y tres páginas después se acaba la obra.
En fin.
En cuanto al libro como tal, ay. Chéjov le impregna ese toque melancólico y como de reproche hacia su sociedad a sus obras y es justo eso lo que las hace remarcables.
Este fue el primer libro que leo
Riley Haas
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fine collection of Chekhov's four most famous plays.

The Seagull is my least favourite - it's concerned with the theatre a little too much for my liking. The ending is great, though.

Uncle Vanya is the kind of thing I would have devoured in my early twenties. It's borderline existential; the conflict between the old and the new (or the pretty and the ugly) is something that has always fascinated me.

Three Sisters feels to me like the most iconic of these plays - not being familiar with it
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quello che mi ha colpito di più leggendo questi quattro capolavori di Čechov è la semplicità, la semplicità di una realtà che poteva essere vera, tangibile, quotidiana, nella quale potersi ritrovare ancora oggi. Questa semplicità non vive nella trama, ma nei personaggi, straordinariamente moderni. I sogni delle tre sorelle (Olga, Masa e Irina) sono identici ancora oggi, così come è vero che a volte il quotidiano ci trascina via, ci lascia cullare in sogni che un giorno ci accorgeremo di non pote ...more
Oleg Kagan
I read Uncle Vanya for my Russian Literature Reading Group, and though I have seen The Seagull and Cherry Orchard before I did not read them this time around. I have yet to see or read Three Sisters.

As for Vanya, it has a similar quality to the other plays - a houseful of restlessness, anxiety over the passage of time, unrequited love, all of which are at times emotionally moving and at times dreary and boring. Nothing much happens in Uncle Vanya -- it is mostly exposition until Serebrekov decid
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: powys-100
Reading this play ("The Seagull" was the play included on the Powys list, and the only one read from the collection) was like a breath of fresh air after Dante. Chekhov is a great master of humanity, and this work of artistic perfection conveys the same higher truths of Shakespeare. This play is superior to the very similar Ibsen play "The Wild Duck"; it does not contain the deliberate message, but subtle, obscure ones. It is not surprising that The Seagull continues to be performed frequently, ...more
Jul 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm ashamed to say that I had never read any Chekhov before this year. I decided that as an aspiring playwright, I had better get around to doing so. I loved these plays, especially "Uncle Vanya" and "The Cherry Orchard." The threat of foreclosure and ruin that hovers over the formerly affluent characters in these two plays was reminiscent of our current moment in history. The dialogue is beautiful to read. . . I now want to see more Chekhov plays actually in production. I didn't love the produc ...more
Ayne Ray
Oct 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best works of the Russian playwright who was also an acclaimed short story writer. Interestingly, although he gained great fame from his plays, he was at odds with director Constantine Stanislavsky (most well-known for the acting style that famously became known as "The Method," a realistic approach in which actors attempt to use their own emotions in portraying their characters); Chekhov considered the plays comedies, while Stanislavsky's productions tended to emphasize their tragic element ...more
Mar 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading a play always seems a bit wrong to me; I know I'm missing essentials. Still worthwhile, of course. And Chekhov is a necessary read in many ways. Enjoyed the latter two plays in the book (Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya) more than the first two (Cherry Orchard and Sea Gull). Underlined many sections. Not the most comforting or thrilling reads, but feel a sense of accomplishment hence the four stars vs three.
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though some have complained about Curt Columbus' new "American translations" of these iconic plays, I found that they maintained all of the baroque edifice that characterizes Chekhov's dramas, but transposed it into a more immediately relatable medium (think Wes Anderson rather than Jane Austen). By taking seriously the task of translating "for the stage," Columbus' versions read well aloud and maintain some of Chekhov's vibrancy in the original Russian texts without sacrificing the content.
Paul Jellinek
Oct 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK, I confess--I just don't get it. These are good plays, sure, but I simply don't understand the veneration with which everyone from Wallace Shawn to George Kennan regards these plays. Maybe it's the translation, or maybe I don't have the necessary Russian sensibility. This is probably the third or fourth time that I've read Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard (I'd read the others once before), still hoping for the light to come on--but so far it hasn't. Maybe next time?
Sep 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only read the last play, "The Cherry Orchard". Someday I will go back and read the rest. I have nothing insightful to say. A lot of the play seems to have a serious tone; it can be read that way. However, it is a comedy and I think it deserves that title. There are quite a few moments where it might seem like we are meant to cry but we are actually meant to laugh. I guess this play shows how fine a line exists between comedy and tragedy.
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was my first read of plays since Hamlet which I read as a kid and hardly remember. All the plays were utterly disappointing. No great turn of events and no twists in the plot. All the plays started with character building and ended with the "most obvious" conclusion.
I think reading Chekov requires a unique taste since I can see many people writing amazing reviews for it. However, I lack it and do not plan to work on it as of yet.
Aug 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now I've read them. I may even remember some of the names. This translation, done by Curt Columbus was very dramatic. Columbus is a theater director and seemed to use more direct language than a previous version I'd tried.
Did not care for Uncle Vanya, nor much for The Cherry Orchard. I liked The Three Sisters best of the four.
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Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the small seaport of Taganrog, southern Russia, the son of a grocer. Chekhov's grandfather was a serf, who had bought his own freedom and that of his three sons in 1841. He also taught himself to read and write. Yevgenia Morozova, Chekhov's mother, was the daughter of a cloth merchant.

"When I think back on my childhood," Chekhov recalled, "it all seems quite glo
More about Anton Chekhov...