THREE SISTERS (Translated from the original by Anton Chekhov)Available for purchase at:
Amazon Samuel French
THREE SISTERS received is world premiere at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 24, 2009. It was directed by John Doyle.
Most recently it was co-produced at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre in 2011. Both productions were directed by Les Waters.
When Cincinnati Playhouse approached me to translate The Three Sisters I was both terrified and happy. Terrified, because I don’t speak Russian and I love the play; happy, because I don’t speak Russian and I love the play. As such, I thought: I will learn from a great master, and I will try to learn Russian, a language I have always wanted to learn. They said: we need it in six months. So I thought: I won’t learn Russian. But I will learn from a great master, with some help. As it turns out, quite a lot of help. Let me explain about all of my help.
The night before I first met John Doyle, the director of the project, I was at a fund-raiser. My husband and I were seated with New York business moguls who often attend fund-raisers. I glanced to my left. Three chairs down was a woman wearing a flowing red silk shirt, and she had very long tapered fingers. The hands of a poet, I thought. She didn’t exactly look bored, but she looked intriguing. Who is this woman? I must move chairs, I thought. I moved chairs over dessert. It turns out the woman was a Russian scholar and an extraordinary playwright/director named Elise Thoron. We got to talking about Chekhov and his luminosity, transparency, and spareness, which is often lost in translation. It was serendipity. After I met with John, I asked if Elise could come on as my Russian language conduit. He, and the theater, happily agreed.
Meanwhile, I went to Los Angeles for a family vacation where my in-laws live. My sister-in-law Natasha who is a native Russian speaker sat down with me and read to me from the original. We sat on her stoop while her baby slept and while her twelve year old daughter Masha showed us Tae Kwan Do kicks. That Masha asked: what did the other Masha say? Natasha gave me literal translations of the idioms—as when Solyony says: pull my finger, meaning, just as it does in this country, make me fart, which the more polite translations usually cover, making Solyony seem completely opaque. Or when Masha says: Life is a raspberry! I wanted to keep the raspberry, even though it’s not readily accessible in English. Working with Natasha, it became clear to me that getting to the root of the original Russian was what I wanted, rather than putting my own authorial stamp on the text. I wanted to get as far away from a “stamp” as possible. I desperately needed a native speaker for things like: a word in act four that could either mean “a metal lid on top of steaming food” or “the kind of hat an entertainer would wear when performing for a czar.”
Not speaking Russian and translating Chekhov, is of course, a terrible disadvantage. Luckily I had four very able helpers. Cincinatti procured for me a translation to look at, by Kristin Johnsen-Neshati. It is a lovely translation, clear and modern, and was very useful to read in the early stages of my work. Because it is a wonderful translation in its own right, and not literal, I couldn’t work directly from it. Still, it was a valuable tool for comparison, as was Stark Young’s translation; and his, I think, is one of the closest in English to the literal Russian in terms of content, rhythm and punctuation.
After being in Los Angeles, I happened to be in Chicago, where I’m from, and where I talked at length with a teacher from childhood, Joyce Piven. I had adapted two Chekhov short stories with Joyce, and she’s directed and studied Chekhov all her life. We drank tea, and talked about The Three Sisters in her living room. Joyce studied acting in New York in the sixties with a woman named Mira Rostova, the great Russian teacher who taught the likes of Uta Hagen. Rostova divided speech into five melodies, called “the doings”. One was the “lament with humor”. Chekhov’s work is full laments with humor—the philosophical shrug of the shoulders and sigh that the oppressed people of the world know so well—it is the “ah, well” in the bars in Ireland, it is the “So, Nu?” in Yiddish. It is the acceptance of fate, a beautiful forbearance with a touch of philosophical humor that seems so rare in America at times. It is ancient. Many Americans’ first impulse, I fear, when struck with bad luck, is to complain rather than to lament. The lament contains acceptance, a “what can you do but laugh” whereas the complaint implies the measured control of the people who expanded westward: how dare life do this to me, feel sorry for me, no one should give me a raw deal, I’m an American, I can change my fate. The melody of complaint comes through the nasal passages, “I didn’t get what I wanted”. The complaint should, I feel, should be avoided at all costs in most theater but especially in Chekhov where there is such danger of it becoming the emotional vernacular of the play.
In Rostova and Piven’s melodies, the “defy” also looms large. The classic defy is Shakespeare’s “Once more into the breach!” Rostova and Piven’s notion is that playwrights’ words have natural emotional and melodic rhythms that should be respected, rather than imposing bizarre “line readings” onto the line, for example, turning the natural sweep of “once more into the breach!” into “once more—into the breach?” I think Olga, Irina and Masha are often defying their fate (“To Moscow!”) rather than complaining about their fate, and this assumption often dictated my choice in translation. For example, many translate the very last line of the play as: “if only we knew, if only we knew.” In the literal Russian there is no pronoun (as there often isn’t in the Russian) and it’s not necessarily past tense. So I chose to translate the phrase as: “To know, to know!”, which is a defy rather than a lament, and is certainly not a complaint. To look for the act of defiance in the sisters rather than the elegy; to find the philosophical lament with humor rather than the complaint…this was my hope in the translation, and also my hope with the actors who ultimately do the production.
I came to this translation with no agenda, no desire to bend Chekhov to my will in any way, but instead, to learn from him. It is, then, a very faithful translation, phrase by phrase, stage direction by stage direction, comma by comma. I tried to cleave to Chekhov’s original rhythms as far as I was able to. Sometimes that involved leaving out pronouns in the English where you might normally see them. For example, in one of Irina’s speeches, many translations use “I am crying” rather than, as in the literal Russian, “tears are flowing”. “I am crying” implies bodily agency, self-pity, and self-awareness; whereas “tears are flowing” is a sudden discovery of a condition. And the discovery, is another melody, another vital doing in Rostova and Piven’s schema. I think much of the humor of the play comes from the moment to moment discovery of emotional states, though the play is often understood in terms of the lyricism of looking backwards. Instead, the sisters are constantly discovering in the moment that they will not go to Moscow. They never know it ahead of time. And they keep forgetting, over and over, only to discover the same reality in the next act. The emphasis in the Russian is on the noun “tears”, or “Moscow”, on the event, the discovery, rather than on the subject “I”, the self--reflexive emotion. People watching themselves emote and describing their own emoting with an “I’ or a “my” seems more culturally American, and more contemporary. The flipside of the lack of solipsism in the Russian language is the possible abdication of responsibility, emotionally or otherwise, when one omits the “I”. In terms of articles absconding…when Olga describes her headache, she is often translated as saying “my head, my head” when in the literal Russian her language is more fragmented, without an article, as in “head, head”. One can imagine having a terrible headache and omitting articles. Rather than smoothing out or trying to make the language more logical, I tried to respect the breakages, disjunctions, oddness, and fragmentation that I think Chekhov was purposely working towards, as an expression of character, event or life view.In this draft, I occasionally included words in the original Russian, to give the actors the flavor of the words inside their mouths, which I think would possibly make their faces move more, which would make their inner lives more suitable for Chekhov; and also because I think English is a terrible jackhammer for terms of endearment. Why say “dear Masha” when you could say “Milya Masha”. Why say “my little dove” when you could say “galupchik moi.” Poor English. Poor sad impoverished English with our lack of “ushas” and “itas” to endear ourselves, to play with, the names of our beloveds. Oh, and one note on my use of line breaks. Chekhov doesn’t often use line breaks in his text in the way that I do—it is probably my only departure from the visual shape of the original. Because it is how I lay out my own plays in English, and how I see the way I hear the actors speak, I thought it would be useful for the actors to hear the rhythms in my head as I translated. But they aren’t intended to indicate an overly poeticized approach, or epic pauses. They are more about the rhythm of thinking than anything.
One final note on Russian indifference and the phrase vsyo ravno (it’s all the same, it’s all equal, what’s the difference, who cares), which appears dozens and dozens of times in the text. I feel that the phrase is intensely Russian and almost impossible to translate, I think the best cultural equivalent is perhaps Janis Joplin on Ball and Chain when she croons, “it’s all the same fucking day, man.” Who cares is too casual, what’s the difference is too caustic and oddly engaged in its disengagement, and it’s all the same seemed about right in terms of a mathematical equivalence, but I am quite sure it sounds different on the streets of Moscow. I was tempted to leave it in the original Russian every time but didn’t want the audience to be entirely left out of Chekhov’s struggle with the indifferent stance, which was philosophical, literary, and of the street, all at once. I tried my best. Or, to be more in keeping with the defy and present-tense of the three sisters, “I try!”
Huge thanks to Elise Thoron; there is not a more intelligent, graceful person of the theater I can think of, and I loved every minute of sitting in her apartment, drinking tea with jam, and hearing her speak the original cadences of the play. She went through every single word with me, and I am so grateful. Also many thanks to my sister-in-law Natasha Paramonova, who, when she is not helping me with The Three Sisters is a brilliant nurse on a cardiac care unit and was almost a nuclear physicist; to her husband Marcus and my husband Tony for feeding the children while Natasha and I talked about the particular light in Moscow in the spring, and its sudden appearance. Thanks also to Kristin Johnsen-Neshati, for letting me look at her manuscript early on in the process. I was also indebted to Stark Young for his faithfulness to the literal, Curt Columbus for sending me his translation, and Laurence Senelick for his careful scholarship. I would also like to thank all the actors who took the time to read the first two acts of the translation with me around a table; their insights were invaluable and cleared a path for me: Michael Cerveris, Felix Solis, Bray Poor, Ron and Lynn Cohen, Keith Reddin, Yusef Bulos, Gian-Murray Gianino, Thomas Jay Ryan, Marin Ireland, Kate Arrington, Maria Dizzia, Polly Noonan, Kathleen Tolan, Manoel Felciano. Thanks to Kate Pines and Stefan Rowny for listening. And thanks to John Steber and New Dramatists for providing space and support for the occasion.
The year after my father died, when I was on the strange boundary between childhood and adulthood, I lived in a house with my sister, in a province, you might say, of Chicago, longing to move to New York. I don’t mean to say that I can fully understand what it was to live in provincial Russia; all I know is, at the time, I dreamed of birch trees. I don’t pretend to be anything in this manuscript but Chekhov’s student, and Chekhov’s ridiculously English-speaking student. I am sorry, Anton, for any havoc I have wreaked, and I thank you your plays, your life, for, without intending to, giving me the gift of sitting in my apartment, while it snowed, trying to translate the line: Look: it’s snowing. What is the meaning of snow?
--Sarah Ruhl, July 2009
For my sister Kate, and for Joyce Piven.
The Prozorov Sisters:
Andrei (their brother)
Natasha (his wife)
Kulygin (Masha’s husband)
Vershinin (a colonel)
Solyony (a staff captain)
Chebutykin (an army doctor)
Tuzenbach (A baron and lieutenant)
Anfisa (a nurse, 80 years old)
Fedotik (second lieutenant)
Rode (second lieutenant)
Ferapont (an old watchman)
The Prozorov’s home.
A large room, with a living area and a dining area.
Full of light.
A table is being set for lunch.
Olga, wearing a blue teacher’s uniform, correcting student exams.
Masha, wearing black, her hat in her lap, reading a book.
Irina, in a white dress, stands, thinking.
Father died a year ago today, on your birthday, Irina, May fifth.
It was so cold, it snowed.
I thought I’d never live through it, and you fainted, as though you were the dead one.
But now it’s been a year, and we can remember with some--lightness.
You’re wearing white again, and your face is shining.
The Clock strikes twelve.
The clock struck then too, on that day--it sounded like this.
I remember, when they carried Father away, the music playing.
and guns firing, at the cemetery.
He was a commander, of a whole troop--
still, not many people came. Well, it was raining--
freezing rain mixed in with snow.
Tuzenbach, Chebutykin, and Solyony appear in the dining area.
Today is warm, we can leave the windows wide open.
The birch trees are almost blooming.
I remember so clearly, eleven years ago, Father was an officer, and we left Moscow, in
early May, same as today.
Moscow in early May!--blooming, warm, golden.
Eleven years ago—but yesterday.
My God! I woke up this morning, saw masses of light flooding in, and my God, the spring!
I felt this great happiness in my soul, and I wanted to go home.
To hell with you both!
Fine, fine, it’s silliness.
Masha whistles a tune.
Stop whistling, Masha. It’s bad luck.
Every day I teach, every night I tutor.
My head aches, always, and my thoughts are an old lady’s.
Four years serving that school and I feel my youth and strength draining out of me.
The only thing that gets stronger is a dream--
To go to Moscow! Sell the house, be done with everything, and go--
Yes! Fast as we can, to Moscow.
Chebutykin and Tuzenbach laugh.
Andrey will most likely be a professor, he won’t stay in this town. But poor Masha…stuck here…
Masha can visit every summer.
I hope so. (She looks out the window)
It’s so beautiful out!
I don’t know why I feel so happy!
This morning I thought: it’s my birthday!
And suddenly I felt so happy, and I could feel my childhood, when Mama
And I thought happier and happier thoughts, coming at me like waves, oh what thoughts!
Today all of you is shining, you’re prettier than ever.
Masha looks pretty too.
Andre would be nice-looking; only he’s gotten so fat, doesn’t look good on him.
And I got old, bony—it’s because of the girls at school, I get so angry.
But today I’m free, I’m home! My head doesn’t hurt, and I feel younger than I did yesterday. Maybe everything is for the best, God’s will and all that, but I do think if I’d gotten married and sat home all day, it would have been nicer.
I would have loved my husband.
TUZENBACH: (to Solyony)
You say such stupid things, I won’t listen.
I forgot to tell you; today, you will have a visit from our new commanding officer. Colonel Vershinin.
Tuzenbach sits down at the piano.
Really? That’s nice.
Is he old?
Not so much. Forty, forty-five at the outer limit.
(Playing the piano)
Seems like a good man. And not stupid. Without a doubt. But he does talk. A lot.
Is he interesting?
Mm--Sure. But he has a wife, and a mother-in-law to go with her, and two little girls. On top of that, it’s his second wife. He goes around saying: I have a wife and two girls. He’ll tell you too. But his wife is sad and half-crazy, wears her hair in long braids like a child, talks in overblown language about “philosophy”, and frequently tries to kill herself. She likes to add salt to his already existing wounds, I suppose. I would have left a woman like that years ago, but he’s a stoic--he stays and complains.
SOLYONY (crossing from dining room to living room with Chebutykin)
I can only lift fifty pounds with one arm, but I can lift two hundred pounds with two arms. What do I conclude? That two men are twice as strong as one, or three times even, or more….
(reads a newspaper while walking.)
A remedy for hair loss: mix two ounces of naphthalene in a bottle of alcohol. Dissolve and use daily. I’ll make a note of that in my little book! (Makes a note in his book. Then, to Solyony) Here’s what you do. Take a cork, stick it in a bottle, get a glass pipe, put it through the cork. Then take a pinch of baking soda—
Ivan Romanych, my dear Ivan Romanych!
What is it, my girl, my joy?
Tell me why I’m so happy today!
I’m a ship with sails, full sails,
and the sky over me blue and wide,
and full of birds!
Big white birds!
Why do you think that is?
CHEBUTYKIN: (kissing her hands)
My white bird.
I woke up this morning, got up and washed my face, and everything in the world seemed suddenly clear to me, and I knew how to live.
I knew everything!
Sweet Ivan Romanych!
People have to work, to labor!
Work by the sweat of our brows.
No matter who we are. This is our one purpose, joy, ecstasy!
The thrill of getting up in the morning and drilling a hole in the street! Or feeding sheep, or teaching children, or, or—making a train go!
My God! Why be a person? I’d rather be an ox—or a simple horse--and do something!—
Anything but a young lady, who wakes at noon, drinks her coffee in bed, and takes two hours to button a dress.
I want to work the way I want an ice cold drink in the summertime.
And if I don’t manage to wake up at dawn every day and work, work!-- then promise me you’ll desert me forever, Ivan Romanych.
I promise to desert you forever.
Father had us up at seven. Now Irina opens her eyes at seven but she lies in bed until nine, thinking, thinking. With such a serious look on her face. (laughs)
You look at me like a little girl, so you think it’s strange if my face looks serious, but I’m all grown up!
Work, God, yes. I never worked a day in my life. I was born in Petersburg, where it’s cold and people are lazy. And my family never knew hardship. I remember when I got home from school, our servant would take off my boots while I threw a tantrum. But my mother just looked at me adoringly, surprised if the servants looked less than adoring as I kicked them. My parents kept me from hard work, always.
But now times have changed, there’s a hurricane on the horizon, gathering speed and force, and soon it will be here! A great and terrible wind will clean out our lazy, sick indifference, and anyone who has ever expressed boredom will be washed clean out. I myself will work, and in twenty-five or thirty years we will all work! Everyone.
You don’t count.
You won’t be alive in twenty-five years, thank God. In a few years you’ll have a heart attack and drop dead, my friend; or else I’ll lose my temper, and put a bullet through your head.
Solyony rubs perfume on his hands and chest.
I’ve never done a thing. After I left school, I didn’t lift a finger, never got to the end of a book. I read the newspaper.
Takes out another newspaper.
And I read in the paper about some famous writer, so now I know his name, and the fact that he’s famous, but what he says, I have no idea.
A knock, people banging from below.
Ah! It’s for me, a visitor, I’ll be right there….
He’s got something up his sleeve.
Indeed, he looked rather triumphant. He must have a large present for you.
Oh, how unpleasant!
Oh, yes, it’s awful. He can be such a little boy.
By the bending sea, a green oak tree,
Where a golden chain is bound--
You’re not happy, Masha.
Masha, whistling, puts on a hat.
Where are you going?
You’d leave a birthday!
Oh, it’s all the same day. I’ll come back tonight. Bye, darling (kisses Irina). I wish you health and happiness. Back when Father was alive, thirty or forty officers would come to our parties, and it was wonderfully loud. But today we have approximately one and a half men and it’s about as loud as the desert. I’m leaving. A touch of melancholy, as they say. I’m no fun right now; don’t listen to me.
Laughing through tears.
We can have a good talk later, but good-bye for now, darling, I’m off. I’ll go—somewhere.
You’re really something.
OLGA: (through tears)
I understand you, Masha.
When a man talks philosophy you get sophistry but when a woman talks philosophy, or God forbid two, you might as well pull my finger. (he makes a farting sound and laughs)
What’s that supposed to mean, you horrible man?
A man cannot breathe in any case
When a brown bear comes and sits on his face.
And that—is how life is.
MASHA: (to Olga)
Oh, stop blubbering!
Enter Anfisa and Ferapont, with a birthday cake.
Come in, come in, old man, your feet are clean—A cake! From Protopopov at the council office.
Thanks. Tell him I said thanks.
Nanny, get Ferapont some cake.
(to Ferapont) Ferapont, go, get yourself some cake.
Come with me, grandpa, let’s go.
I don’t like Protopop—popov—whatever his name is, you shouldn’t have invited him.
Chebutykin comes in carrying a huge silver tea service. Murmurs of surprise and displeasure.
OLGA: (her face in her hands)
A samovar! My, God! That’s for a husband to give a wife! How awful.
The below three lines, simultaneously:
IRINA: (to Chebutykin)
Ivan Romanich, why?
Told you so.
Ivan Romanich, you should be ashamed of yourself.
My dears, my darlings, you’re all I’ve got, I love you more than anything in the world. I’m an old man, a husk of a man, aware of my own insignificance….The best thing about me is my love for you, and if it weren’t for you three, I’d have given up the ghost long ago. (to Irina) Darling, I’ve known you since the day you were born….I held you in my arms….I loved your mother, may she rest in peace…
But why such expensive presents!
Expensive presents! That’s ridiculous… (to a soldier) I’ll put the samovar over there. (mimicking her) Expensive presents…
My dears, a strange colonel, at the door. A stranger, never seen him before. Already took his overcoat off, my angels, he’s on his way in. (to Irina) Iri, be nice. Our lunch is already getting cold. Lord have mercy!
Must be Vershinin.
Lieutenant Colonel Vershinin!
I have the honor of presenting myself.
(He salutes, military style.)
I’m so happy to finally be in your home.
(to Irina and Masha) Ay, look at you! What you’ve become!
Sit anywhere. We’re so glad you’ve come.
Happy I’m here, happy I’m here! But you are three sisters. I remember—three girls. I don’t remember your faces, but I remember that your father, Colonel Prozorov, had three little girls. I saw you with my own eyes. Ah, ah! (Some American equivalent of Ay, ay, ach, oy, oy, etc.) How time flies. How time flies…
He’s from Moscow.
Moscow! You’re from Moscow!
Yes. Your father was a commander in Moscow, and I was an officer under his command. (to Masha) Now, your face I believe I remember.
But I you? No.
Olya, Olya! (Calling with child-like excitement to the dining room.) Olya! Come quick.
Colonel Vershinin--from Moscow!
You must be Olga, the oldest. And you’re Masha, and you’re Irina, the baby—
You’re from Moscow?
Yes. I studied in Moscow and joined the army there, served for a long time,
and finally got my own command--here—in this town.
Funny, I don’t really remember you, but I remember that there were three sisters.
Your father remains perfectly stamped in my memory. If I close my eyes I can still see him under my eyelids. I used to go to your house in Moscow—
I thought I remembered everyone, but—now--
My full name is: Aleksandr Ignatyevich.
Alexander Ignatyevich, from Moscow! What a surprise!
We’re moving back, in fact.
Perhaps by September. It’s our city !
( endow “our city” with the meaning—our native land, motherland, that which pulls you)
We were born there….On Old Basmanny street…
Olga and Irina laugh with joy.
MASHA: (deadpan, as though to say: my sisters think of Moscow as a country.)
Oh, a fellow countryman.
(Suddenly very alive)
Oh, now I remember! I do! Olya—do you remember—they used to tell stories about the “Lovesick Major”? You were a low-ranking soldier then, but you were in love, so they teased you and called you: “The Lovesick Major.”
Yes, that’s it! “The lovesick major,” that was me.
You only had little whiskers then…Oh, you’re older now!
(through tears) You’re old!
Yes, they used to call me the lovesick major, because I was young and I was in love. Now—times have changed.
But you don’t have a single gray hair. You’re older but you’re not old.
And yet, I’m forty-three. When did you come from Moscow?
Eleven years ago. Masha, what’s wrong? Don’t cry, silly, you’ll make me cry. (almost in tears.)
What street did you live on?
Same as us!
And then I lived on Nemesky street. I’d walk on Nemesky Street down to the barracks--remember that sad old bridge down there? Water rushing under your feet—what a sound! Alone on that bridge, the sound could make your soul go all cold.
But this river—here—is such a joyful, big river! Wide, and strong!
Yes, but cold. Cold with mosquitoes.
Oh, come on now, it’s good weather here-- fresh, bracing, healthy—Slavic! A forest, a river, and--birch trees. Birches, as humble as they are beautiful. Of all trees, I love them best. It’s a good life here. But strange, no train station for eighteen miles. And no one knows why.
I know why.
They all stare at him.
Because if the station were near, then it wouldn’t be far, and if it were far, it wouldn’t be near.
An odd silence.
Ha ha ha, Vassily Vassilich.
OLGA: (to Vershinin)
Now I remember you. I remember.
I knew your mother.
A good woman, God bless her soul.
Mama is buried in Moscow.
In Novo-Devichy cemetery.
Imagine, I’m already beginning to forget her face.
One day no one will remember us either. We’ll be forgotten too.
True. We’ll be forgotten. That’s life, there’s no getting around it.
Our projects, our obsessions--serious, big, important—a time will come when they won’t be important anymore.
And you can’t guess what will be considered vast and important, and what will be considered small and ridiculous. When Columbus and Copernicus first appeared, people thought they were laughable, while some backwards drivel written by an idiot was the Gospel truth!
And it may be that our lives, so familiar and dear to us, will in time seem strange, stupid, disgusting, or even depraved.
Who knows? They might call us stewards of knowledge, a high point of civilization. We don’t have torture, capital punishment, invasions—but still…all the suffering…
SOLYONY: (makes high pitched chicken sounds that seem natural for feeding chickens)
Cheep cheep cheep
You don’t need chicken seed for the baron, he can dine upon philosophy.
Will you leave me alone for God’s sake? Your jokes are getting boring.
SOLYONY: (higher voice)
Cheep cheep cheep!
But in spite of all the suffering, there are other cultural improvements, moral progress—
Yes, yes, of course.
You said, Baron, they’ll call our lives a high point, but people are basically low. (stands up) Look how short I am, for instance. Keep calling me elevated, I like it.
A violin is heard off stage.
That’s Andrey playing, our brother.
He’s the scholar of the family. He was born to be a professor. Father was a military man, but he gave birth to an academic.
That’s what Papa wanted for him.
I’m afraid we teased him today. He’s in love.
With a local girl. She might come to lunch.
Oh, and her clothes! They’re not ugly or unfashionable, they’re just sad. A strange loud yellowish skirt with a pathetic fringe—topped off with a red jacket. And her pink cheeks, scrubbed, scrubbed, scrubbed until they’re like apples! Andrei can’t be in love, I won’t allow it. He’s got some taste, he’s just teasing us. I heard she’s marrying Protopopov, chairman of the County Council, which would be perfect. Andrei, come here! Just for a minute, dear!
The violin stops. Enter Andrei.
This is my brother, Andrei.
Nice to meet you. (wipes his face) You’re the new battery commander?
He’s from Moscow!
Oh? Well, congratulations, now my sisters won’t leave you alone.
I think I’ve already bored your sisters.
Look at this picture frame Andrei gave me today for my birthday! He made it himself.
Pulling it out.
(looking at frame and not knowing what to say)
Oh—yes—what a thing--
And this one on the piano, he made that too.
(Andrey waves his hand and moves away)
Andrei’s our little scholar; he plays the violin and can carve so many many objects out of wood. He’s practically a Renaissance Man. Andrei, don’t go! He’s always wandering off. Come back!
They lead him back, laughing
Come on, come on!
Leave me alone—
You’re being silly! Vershinin used to be called the lovesick major, and he didn’t get upset.
Not in the least!
I’ll call you—the lovesick violinist!
Or the lovesick professor!
Andrey’s in love! Andryusha’s in love!
Bravo, bravo! Andryusha’s in love!
(Approaching Andrei from behind, taking him by the waist with both arms and singing)
For love, sweet love alone, did Nature put us on this earth to roam (laughing)
Enough, enough already. I didn’t sleep at all last night, and I’m not myself today. (wiping his face) I stayed up reading until four, then I went to bed, but nothing happened. I thought of this and that, and suddenly the sun is climbing into my bedroom, so early. This summer, while I’m here, I want to translate this wonderful English novel—
You read English?
Yes. Father, may he rest in peace, oppressed us with education. He really cracked the whip. I know it sounds funny, but after he died, I started to put on the pounds. It was like my body was suddenly freeing itself of my father and his discipline. Thanks to my father, we all know French, German, English, and Irina knows Italiano. But at what cost!
It’s a silly affectation to know three languages in a town like this one. No—not even an affectation—it’s an extra appendage. Like having a sixth finger. We know too much.
Oh, (laughing) you know too much! How can that be, I can’t believe any town could be so backward that it has no place for intelligent, educated people. Imagine that out of one hundred thousand people in this town—I agree, it’s a little forlorn—and lacks culture—okay—but let’s say there are only three people like you three sisters. Of course, you can’t transform the masses—you will instead dissolve into them—you will be silenced, by life, life itself will hush you up, but you won’t dissolve without an imprint. After your death there will be six more like you, then twelve, and so on, and so on, until people like you—enlightened people—will become the majority! In two or three hundred years, life on earth will be beyond beautiful, beyond imagination, sublime—man needs that life, and if it doesn’t yet exist, he must sense it coming—wait for it--prepare for it by dreaming of it! And that is why we must perceive more deeply than our parents perceived, see more fully than our grandparents saw.
(laughing) And you complain that you know too much!
I’ll stay for lunch.
She takes off her hat.
The blue background you see is a close-up of a tile from a production of Eurydice at Second Stage,
directed by Les Waters and designed by Scott Bradley.