A PLAY IN FOUR ACTS
IRINA ABKADINA an actress
CONSTANTINE TREPLIEFF her son
PETER SORIN her brother
NINA ZARIETCHNAYA a young girl the daughter of a rich landowner
ILIA SHAMRAEFF the manager of SORIN'S estate
PAULINA his wife
MASHA their daughter
BORIS TRIGORIN an author
EUGENE DORN a doctor
SIMON MEDVIEDENKO a schoolmaster
JACOB a workman
The scene is laid on SORIN'S estate. Two years elapse between the
third and fourth acts.
The scene is laid in the park on SORIN'S estate. A broad avenue
of trees leads away from the audience toward a lake which lies
lost in the depths of the park. The avenue is obstructed by a
rough stage temporarily erected for the performance of amateur
theatricals and which screens the lake from view. There is a
dense growth of bushes to the left and right of the stage. A few
chairs and a little table are placed in front of the stage. The
sun has just set. JACOB and some other workmen are heard
hammering and coughing on the stage behind the lowered curtain.
MASHA and MEDVIEDENKO come in from the left returning from a
MEDVIEDENKO. Why do you always wear mourning?
MASHA. I dress in black to match my life. I am unhappy.
MEDVIEDENKO. Why should you be unhappy? [Thinking it over] I
don't understand it. You are healthy and though your father is
not rich he has a good competency. My life is far harder than
yours. I only have twenty-three roubles a month to live on but I
don't wear mourning. [They sit down].
MASHA. Happiness does not depend on riches; poor men are often
MEDVIEDENKO. In theory yes but not in reality. Take my case
for instance; my mother my two sisters my little brother and I
must all live somehow on my salary of twenty-three roubles a
month. We have to eat and drink I take it. You wouldn't have us
go without tea and sugar would you? Or tobacco? Answer me that
if you can.
MASHA. [Looking in the direction of the stage] The play will soon
MEDVIEDENKO. Yes Nina Zarietchnaya is going to act in
Treplieff's play. They love one another and their two souls will
unite to-night in the effort to interpret the same idea by
different means. There is no ground on which your soul and mine
can meet. I love you. Too restless and sad to stay at home I
tramp here every day six miles and back to be met only by your
indifference. I am poor my family is large you can have no
inducement to marry a man who cannot even find sufficient food
for his own mouth.
MASHA. It is not that. [She takes snuff] I am touched by your
affection but I cannot return it that is all. [She offers him
the snuff-box] Will you take some?
MEDVIEDENKO. No thank you. [A pause.]
MASHA. The air is sultry; a storm is brewing for to-night. You do
nothing but moralise or else talk about money. To you poverty is
the greatest misfortune that can befall a man but I think it is
a thousand times easier to go begging in rags than to-- You
wouldn't understand that though.
SORIN leaning on a cane and TREPLIEFF come in.
SORIN. For some reason my boy country life doesn't suit me and
I am sure I shall never get used to it. Last night I went to bed
at ten and woke at nine this morning feeling as if from
oversleep my brain had stuck to my skull. [Laughing] And yet I
accidentally dropped off to sleep again after dinner and feel
utterly done up at this moment. It is like a nightmare.
TREPLIEFF. There is no doubt that you should live in town. [He
catches sight of MASHA and MEDVIEDENKO] You shall be called when
the play begins my friends but you must not stay here now. Go
SORIN. Miss Masha will you kindly ask your father to leave the
dog unchained? It howled so last night that my sister was unable
MASHA. You must speak to my father yourself. Please excuse me; I
can't do so. [To MEDVIEDENKO] Come let us go.
MEDVIEDENKO. You will let us know when the play begins?
MASHA and MEDVIEDENKO go out.
SORIN. I foresee that that dog is going to howl all night again.
It is always this way in the country; I have never been able to
live as I like here. I come down for a month's holiday to rest
and all and am plagued so by their nonsense that I long to
escape after the first day. [Laughing] I have always been glad to
get away from this place but I have been retired now and this
was the only place I had to come to. Willy-nilly one must live
JACOB. [To TREPLIEFF] We are going to take a swim Mr.
TREPLIEFF. Very well but you must be back in ten minutes.
JACOB. We will sir.
TREPLIEFF. [Looking at the stage] Just like a real theatre! See
there we have the curtain the foreground the background and
all. No artificial scenery is needed. The eye travels direct to
the lake and rests on the horizon. The curtain will be raised as
the moon rises at half-past eight.
TREPLIEFF. Of course the whole effect will be ruined if Nina is
late. She should be here by now but her father and stepmother
watch her so closely that it is like stealing her from a prison
to get her away from home. [He straightens SORIN'S collar] Your
hair and beard are all on end. Oughtn't you to have them trimmed?
SORIN. [Smoothing his beard] They are the tragedy of my
existence. Even when I was young I always looked as if I were
drunk and all. Women have never liked me. [Sitting down] Why is
my sister out of temper?
TREPLIEFF. Why? Because she is jealous and bored. [Sitting down
beside SORIN] She is not acting this evening but Nina is and so
she has set herself against me and against the performance of
the play and against the play itself which she hates without
ever having read it.
SORIN. [Laughing] Does she really?
TREPLIEFF. Yes she is furious because Nina is going to have a
success on this little stage. [Looking at his watch] My mother is
a psychological curiosity. Without doubt brilliant and talented
capable of sobbing over a novel of reciting all Nekrasoff's
poetry by heart and of nursing the sick like an angel of heaven
you should see what happens if any one begins praising Duse to
her! She alone must be praised and written about raved over her
marvellous acting in "La Dame aux Camelias" extolled to the
skies. As she cannot get all that rubbish in the country she
grows peevish and cross and thinks we are all against her and
to blame for it all. She is superstitious too. She dreads
burning three candles and fears the thirteenth day of the month.
Then she is stingy. I know for a fact that she has seventy
thousand roubles in a bank at Odessa but she is ready to burst
into tears if you ask her to lend you a penny.
SORIN. You have taken it into your head that your mother dislikes
your play and the thought of it has excited you and all. Keep
calm; your mother adores you.
TREPLIEFF. [Pulling a flower to pieces] She loves me loves me
not; loves--loves me not; loves--loves me not! [Laughing] You
see she doesn't love me and why should she? She likes life and
love and gay clothes and I am already twenty-five years old; a
sufficient reminder to her that she is no longer young. When I am
away she is only thirty-two in my presence she is forty-three
and she hates me for it. She knows too that I despise the
modern stage. She adores it and imagines that she is working on
it for the benefit of humanity and her sacred art but to me the
theatre is merely the vehicle of convention and prejudice. When
the curtain rises on that little three-walled room when those
mighty geniuses those high-priests of art show us people in the
act of eating drinking loving walking and wearing their
coats and attempt to extract a moral from their insipid talk;
when playwrights give us under a thousand different guises the
same same same old stuff then I must needs run from it as
Maupassant ran from the Eiffel Tower that was about to crush him
by its vulgarity.
SORIN. But we can't do without a theatre.
TREPLIEFF. No but we must have it under a new form. If we can't
do that let us rather not have it at all. [Looking at his watch]