The play takes place over a several-year period in the provincial town in which the Prozorov sisters and their brother Andrei live. Olga, the oldest, is a high school teacher; Masha is unhappily married to a teacher in the same school; and Irina and Andrei have dreams of moving back to Moscow. Vershinin, the new Army commander, joins the group of military hangers-on around the Prozorov home, a group that also includes the ineffectual doctor, Chebutykin, who lets everyone know that he has forgotten all the medicine he ever knew.

As time passes, Andrei marries Natalya and devotes himself to gambling, while Natalya has babies and takes over the household. Masha has a romantic affair with Vershinin; Natalya commits adultery with the school administrator. A fire rages through the town, but Chebutykin is drunk and unable to help the victims. In the end, just before the Army contingent moves to another post, Irina's fiancee is killed in a duel.


This is a beautiful play of character, relationship, and motivation. It explores the gap between hope and fulfillment in the lives of the Prozorovs and their friends. Chekhov described the play as a comedy: there are no heroic actions here, nor any tragic flaws. The characters have many flaws, as well as strengths, but all of these are on a very human scale.

Chebutykin, the physician, is a pleasant man who has withdrawn from helping others and taken solace in alcohol. Has he seen too much suffering in his life and simply burned-out? Why has he given up the practice of medicine?

Unlike some of Chekhov's physicians who continue to practice after they have lost their altruism, Chebutykin has simply withdrawn. Compare him, for example, with Ionych in Chekhov's story, Ionych (see this database), who has replaced altruism as motivation with greed. Consider also Astrov in Uncle Vanya (see this database), who struggles on with his profession, even though he is disillusioned with the results of his efforts.


First produced in 1901. Translated by Lanford Wilson.


Smith & Kraus

Place Published

Lyme, N.H.