|Photo: Viktor Vasiliev|
By Carol Rocamora
“My darling, how hard it was for me to write that play.”So wrote an ailing 43-year-old playwright named Anton Chekhov, when he sent The Cherry Orchard (coming to the BAM Harvey Theater Feb 17—27) to his wife at the Moscow Art Theatre in October 1903. Whereas each of his previous plays had taken him only weeks to write, this one took him almost two years. It would be his last.
Chekhov’s first symptoms of consumption came in 1884, the year he graduated from medical school. He ignored the warnings. “It’s probably just a burst blood vessel,” he wrote dismissively, plunging into work. During the next year he would practice medicine, write 100 short stories, and experiment with vaudeville.
But the symptoms persisted, with hemorrhages in 1886, 1889, and 1897—when the official diagnosis came. His doctors banished him to Yalta, “my hot Siberia,” as he called it, far from Moscow and the Russian countryside that he loved. Even in decline, he managed to write three of his four masterworks: The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1897), and The Three Sisters (1901).