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Act I is largely introductory. The characters, who will play both major and minor roles in the play, are presented. The setting and conflict are also clearly described, as Lyobov returns home to Russia from Paris to see if she can save the cherry orchard from being sold. Finally, the theme of love is introduced as several characters display an interest in one another in this first act.
Lopahin, a rich merchant, has spent the night at the cherry orchard so that he can greet Lyobov upon her arrival; it is learned that he was once a slave at the orchard. He also offers Lyobov advice on how she can save the estate, but Lyobov rejects his suggestions. She proves her difficulty in accepting change when she will not entertain the thought of cutting down some of the trees in the orchard to build summer villas along the river; she also cannot bear the thought of foreigners being on her property.
Lyobov and her youngest daughter, Anya, have spent the last five years in Paris, for Lyobov has a lover there. Gaev, her brother, complains that she is basically immoral, because of her careless use of money in chasing the finer things in life and her wicked affair. In spite of her weaknesses, Lyobov seems to be well loved. Everyone at the orchard is eagerly awaiting her return, including her older daughter Varya, Lopahin, and her hired servants; Gaev (her brother) and Trofimov (the ex-tutor) also arrive to greet her. There is a happy reunion, especially between Anya, Varya, and Lyobov
Several romantic interests are also presented in this opening act. Lopahin shows an interest in Varya, and everyone expects that they will soon wed. By the end of the play, however, Lopahin has still not proposed. Trofimov, who is a perpetual student and the past tutor of Lyobov's deceased son, is interested in Anya; but she does not encourage him. Finally, it is learned that Yasha is pursuing Dunyasha.
The first act can be considered as the exposition of the play. It establishes the foundation on which the rest of the play will be built. The major and minor characters are presented, the conflict is established, the setting is described, and the Themes are introduced.