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Denied Recognition

Well this is the final version of my A2 English coursework which has driven me totally mad for about the past three months. The final result is ok, rather long and painstaking but hopefully… 
    Anyway its based upon Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’ but will hopefully make some sense if you don’t know the play. Feel free to comment, good or bad, but i apologise in advance for the length and will warn you now that there are no murders, graphic fight scenes or steamy love affairs…

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Denied Recognition

Celebration filled the air like smoke, mixing with the acrid aroma of perfume and cigars. The Moscow Art Theatre heaved with an ocean of people breaking upon one another in waves, wisps of conversation trailing in their wake.
‘Did you see him?’
‘How did he look?’
‘The press are saying he hasn’t got long…’ 
Questions raced along aisles, leaping between boxes like Chinese whispers, becoming disjointed and indistinguishable from their origin.
    Alone in one box sat the excuse for this interrogation, leant back against his seat with his eyes closed, one hand clasped around the armrest. A delicate pair of pince-nez situated upon his nose helped to disguise the dark shadows under his eyes and the drawn look of a face wracked with signs of illness. A walking stick was propped beside him and his breathing was laborious, changing erratically from short gasps to prolonged belligerent breaths.
    He did not hear the tentative cough which introduced a finely dressed figure sporting a silk tie and an unruly moustache. Looking embarrassed to have intruded he nevertheless stooped closer, a look of admiration and concern crept across his features, a frown appearing upon his brow.
‘Anton?’
There was an uneasy moment as recognition was denied once more and the man moved to exit the box, then his frown was replaced by a look of relief as Chekhov opened his eyes.
‘Good evening Stanislavsky. Forgive me, I was unaware I had company.’
Muttering, Stanislavsky accepted the apology and handed Chekhov a programme dated ‘January 17th 1904’announcing ‘premiere of The Cherry Orchard, in commemoration with the writer, Anton Chekhov’s, twenty-fifth year in literature.’
    ‘I believe birthday greetings are also in order, although I do not think forty-four is so very old an age, certainly not old enough for you to be nodding off before my play.’ Stanislavsky mocked hurtfulness but smiled as Chekhov replied, with equal severity, ‘I was not asleep Constantin, merely…dwelling, and I ask you to remember exactly to whom this play belongs.’ He ruffled the programme purposefully before letting it fall into his lap, blue eyes sparkling.
    Chuckling, Stanislavsky assumed a softer, personal tone, ‘tonight is celebratory Anton, no time to dwell. You have no reason to be nervous.’
Chekhov had begun to curl the corner of the programme between his forefinger and thumb with a level of concentration his companion found disconcerting. ‘I worry about you Anton, so does Olga. You seem distracted.’
‘You should not feel the need to worry about me.’
Recognizing anger, Stanislavsky’s frown reappeared but further conversation was delayed by several barks from below, followed by gasps and laughter from the inundated auditorium. Lips shaped upon the precipice of a word, Stanislavsky leant over the balcony to identify the source of commotion and was greeted by the sight of a small dachshund, standing in the centre of the stage, wagging its tail enthusiastically. He straightened up; the corners of his eyes crinkling like a concertina.
‘Your wife should learn to control that dog Anton, he’s not on until the Second Act’. He examined the face of a gold watch, ‘I’d better go, we start in five minutes.’ Stanislavsky turned to Chekhov with the same admiration and concern present upon his entrance.
‘Remember what I said friend, it is not healthy to dwell upon the past’. 

*

All exchanges were muted as the audience hastened to their seats, concentration fixed upon the stage. Chekhov acted likewise but his absent expression denied his full attention as he stared at a small window frame fastened into the scenery. Outside the theatre snow thickened the air but the painted view behind this window showed only morning sunlight, falling weakly upon a magnificent orchard.
    A memory tugged the edges of his mind. Another orchard, behind his parent’s house in Taganrog, a living playground full of secrets and discoveries to be made…

    He pushes his sun-bleached hair out of his eyes with a pudgy hand, stumbling through the branches. Legs driven by childish determination, he concentrates with all his might, so his footsteps fall into the exact place his brother’s have vacated. 
‘Keep up Anton!’
Nikolai turns back, an impish grin framing his freckled face. Crimson juice spills down his bare leg from the fistful of cherries clenched in his right hand. 

    Any curious member of the audience, straining around in their seat to glimpse the famous playwright, would have seen the smile upon Chekhov’s lips as he remembered the admiration he had had for his older brother. How Nikolai would win every wrestle, beat him in every race. Should he have been jealous? No. Chekhov stopped smiling.

    The crimson juice blackens to the purple of childish bruises. He attempts to merge with the flaking wallpaper, watching the belt buckle glint as it swirls through the air like ribbon. Waiting for a skilful flick of the wrist to send it cascading ferociously downwards, dividing the skin on his brother’s back into angry welts.

    But Nikolai would never cry. Was this the real reason for his admiration? Seeing the hard look in his brother’s eyes and the way he remained defiantly upright, refusing to fall beneath the blows of his father’s tirade? Was this the real reason he had strove so hard to follow in his footsteps?
    Only once had Chekhov seen vulnerability in his brother. It was February when he received the letter, returning home immediately to a welcome of whispers and stifled sobbing from relatives he barely knew. He remembered the view of the orchard from his brother’s window, smaller, frozen flowerless between the full potential of summer and the promise of rebirth carried by the spring.
    Birdsong had crept cautiously into the confinement; an accompanying melody to the rhythm of drawn out gasps originating from the bed where Nikolai lay, cruelly aged, flecks of grey prematurely peppering his dark hair. His carefree smile of childhood had been replaced by a snarl, lips drawn back to reveal gums matched in their whiteness by the pallor of his face. There was a red stain upon the pillow, no longer caused by innocent hands drenched in cherry juice.
   
    Chekhov could still picture the shadow his own body cast across Nikolai’s face as he stood in the darkened room. It seemed strange to him that the memory of the orchard he recalled then should be the same as the one he now dwelt upon. 
   
‘Keep up Anton!’
Tripping clumsily he bites his lip as a pretence for holding back tears, something metallic tangs his tongue and sweat trickles down his neck, lining the inside of his collar.
‘Wait! I can’t – can’t go any faster!’
But Nikolai continues to run, gathering speed until he is nothing more than a blur between the blossoms. Alone, Anton stops, panting he stretches out his chubby arms in the direction his brother had been. His face crumbles and he begins to cry.   

    Resuming his manipulation of the programme which had so unnerved Stanislavsky, Chekhov attempted to suppress the feelings of shame being pushed to the forefront of his mind.
      He had run from Nikolai’s death with a speed that he could once only desire, neither knowing nor caring for his final destination. He came to rest in Yalta where time was consumed by waves breaking upon the shoreline. Willing it not to be true. Shutting out his family, fearing the reality their grief could bring.
    Hand slipping, Chekhov winced as beads of blood appeared from a paper cut upon his index finger. The programme fell to the floor as he inhaled sharply, unwittingly triggering a struggle to regain some normality of his breathing pattern.
    He smiled bitterly; breathing had once been so easy. It was ironic just how far he had really come in Nikolai’s footsteps. Ironic that he chose Yalta to escape from his brother’s death, when the conditions of the same disease now forced him to remain there.
But he would not die, not yet.
    He thought of the stories he had to write, he had never been talented with the brush like his brother, but the scenes Nikolai produced inspired the discovery that he could paint a picture just as vividly with words. Chekhov found himself spending increasing amounts of time at his desk, always facing the window so he could look out upon the trees. He enjoyed the solitude and the satisfaction of his imagination, the emotional release of pen upon paper and the burst of adrenaline as he marked the final full stop, signing his name with a joyous flourish. For him writing had never been a means of making money, simply something he needed to do.

      For the first time since his arrival in the theatre that night Chekhov fell to watching The Cherry Orchard being played out upon the stage. Conscious of the audience around him he listened intently for any responses they might make. These were not actors but characters, his own creations and he felt as much a part of them as they were a part of him.
    Chekhov couldn’t separate the characters within his writing. To him there was no good or evil, no hero or villain. He sympathised with them all, recognising and valuing them for the individual traits he bestowed. Watching the Cherry Orchard now it occurred to Chekhov that there was one character with whom he could sympathise more than any other and surprising himself with the realisation fell to contemplating Ranevsky.
    He wondered why she caused within him such a strong mix of emotions. Parallels, he thought. Ranevsky had run from the death of her son as he had run from Nikolai’s. But he was aware of this. Aware of the similarity when he was writing, even influenced by it. So why did the idea of running continue to snatch at him, cutting through his thoughts with a brutality that would not be suppressed?
    He thought harder. What exactly was Ranevsky running from? What had he been running from? It wasn’t just grief, it was more than that. He had been running from everything which might remind him of the reality he was trying to escape. Maybe this was the parallel.
    He had thought that Ranevsky’s refusal to see the orchard cut down was caused by his own nostalgic love, but maybe it was deeper than this. On her part it betrayed the continuation of her running and her preferred denial to her situation.
Was he still running, and if so what from?
    Even as he asked himself the question the latent answer rose up to him, bringing with it the fear he had tried to ignore. He had been stranded between two discordant possibilities, both seeking the resolution and yet dreading his own response. The answer had been there on the page in front of him and it was only now that he began to realize the true purpose of the orchard within his play.
    Incredulity at this short sightedness filled Chekhov with momentary frustration as he began to piece together the puzzle which had before seemed so impossible. The similarities between himself and Ranevsky became clearer as he realized they had both substituted the orchard for something greater than it was. Ranevsky didn’t want to lose the orchard because it symbolised the happier times in her life, before the deaths of her husband and son. He didn’t want to lose the orchard simply because it was his life. This was the symbol he had attributed to the Cherry Orchard.       
    But of course he didn’t want to die. There had to be something more. Eyes bright Chekhov seized upon the memory of running, feverishly trying to couple it with something that made sense. Amid the audience’s suspense only he knew Ranevsky’s fate. She would not be at peace so long as she continued to run. Was this the message he had been trying to communicate? Should he continue to run from death or should he once more follow his brother’s lead?
    Chekhov scanned the theatre frantically; the ornate ceiling, the audience, the red velvet curtains, until his eyes reached the stage and a line burst into his mind even as it was worded by Trofimov.
He had written the answer himself:

‘You must look the truth straight in the face.’

Chekhov realized the full extent of his illness at the same time as his foolishness.
He was going to die and for the first time in a long while he was happy.

*      *      *

Olga Knipper stood in the middle of the room with only a sedate Schnap and her grief for company. Mechanically she moved towards the bed which now offered only a red stain upon the pillow as a reminder of its inhabitant.
    Averting her eyes she ran her hand along the edge of the bedside table, the only thing left to be stripped of its unneeded contents. As she did so she knocked a manuscript to the floor and, bending down to pick it up, saw that it was the same one that had kept her husband occupied for the last few weeks, checking and rechecking until at last he was satisfied The Cherry Orchard was ready to be published.
    Olga scanned the typewritten pages until she came to the final act, lines sprang out to meet her but she paid them little attention, unable to focus on anything but the ache inside her chest and the tears that refused to spill.

‘It’s devilish cold here.
There are no fires today’

‘But you’ve nothing’

‘Mother asks if you will stop them cutting down the orchard until she has gone away’

    Men bustled into the room to collect the last of the boxes, looking a little awkward when they saw she was still present.
‘Would you like us to strip the bed ma’am?’
Awakened from her reverie Olga stared for a moment without seeing before replying
‘No…No, I, I’d like it kept until I leave.’
The man nodded and backed out of the room. Olga was unable to explain, even to herself, why she wanted the sheets to remain but she felt, somehow, that as long as the bed was made there would still be someone to return to it. It was a way of relieving her loss. She wasn’t ready to face it. Not yet.
    Returning to the manuscript she flicked through it once more until the pages came to rest towards the end, interrupted by a theatre programme whose cover, although crumpled in one corner, was still intact, bearing the same announcement which had caused such festivity six months ago. At the bottom she could make out her own name ‘Olga Knipper plays Mm Lubov Ranevsky’.
    Behind this was another typewritten page which she was about to discard when she noticed a few words had been underlined, rather shakily, with black ink, as though someone had wanted to draw attention to it.

‘To those departing, and good luck to those who stay behind.’ 

Finally the tears which she had been unknowingly suppressing began to fall as Olga read what seemed to be her husband’s final instruction, and she realized that she could not escape what she could not control.
    As Ranevsky said her last farewell to the orchard and prepared to start running once more, Olga said one last farewell to her husband, wiped the tears from her cheeks, stripped the linen from the bed and walked out of the door, the manuscript in one hand, the programme once again forgotten on the floor.

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