GLISSANDO; OR THE ART OF CRUELTY — Dayana Stetco

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The cast of Glissando: Susan David, Conni Castille, Jessy Hylton, Sarah Mikayla Brown, and Jason Knight.

Glissando; Or, The Art of Cruelty will be performed by the Milena Theatre Group at the James Devin Moncus Theatre, Lafayette, in January 2015 with the following cast:

ANTON CHEHOV*
Jason Knight
EMMA CHEHOV
Sarah Mikayla Brown
OLGA
Susan David
LENA
Jessy Hylton
MARNIE
Conni Castille
THE SOUND GUY
J. Bruce Fuller

Set Design, Paintings, Photography
Susan David
Costume Design
Darolyn Robertson
Choreography
Alexandra Culotta
Lighting Design
Brian D. Schneider
Stage Management
Kelley Gillaspy
Stage Direction
Dayana Stetco

Source texts: Chekhov, Three Sisters; Ibsen, A Doll’s House; Jean Benedetti, Dear WriterDear ActressThe Love Letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper; Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy: Ghosts.

Produced by the Acadiana Center for the Arts and Freetown Studios

*The spelling of the character’s last name – CHEHOV instead of CHEKHOV – is preferred because it comes closer to the original Russian pronunciation of the name.

***

GLISSANDO; OR, THE ART OF CRUELTY

Characters:
ANTON (TONY) CHEHOV – a modern playwright
EMMA – an actress, his wife
OLGA, LENA, MARNIE – the three sisters in CHEHOV’s play, also the actresses playing the sisters
J- the sound guy

The stage is divided, mostly symbolically, into two areas: stage right – the CHEHOV household; stage left – rehearsal space for CHEHOV’s play, a minimal set suggesting the sisters’ living room.

An armchair, a small desk, a small bulletin board, and a bar cart designate CHEHOV’s work area. A chair for EMMA, always at a distance, as if EMMA is meant to occupy the position of CHEHOV’s eternal spectator.

A long dining table, chairs, a guitar, and a lot of sports equipment in the sisters’ area. The rehearsal space works flexibly: it is a living room, but it also functions as dining room, study, exercise room, etc. As the lines between the actresses playing the three sisters and the sisters’ characters are being blurred, the space becomes more difficult to define.

Music. CHEHOV is writing frantically, but not successfully. From time to time he drinks from a large cocktail glass. He’s in a bad mood – nothing new there. Mostly tension. EMMA, in her chair, pretends to look though a magazine but is, in fact, watching him attentively. In the sisters’ area, OLGA is grading papers. From time to time she stops and looks at the ceiling, listening for something. Attic noises, probably.

Unexpectedly, in one angry gesture, CHEHOV sweeps stacks of papers off his desk.

EMMA
Problem?

CHEHOV
It’s this play.

EMMA
Are you stuck?

CHEHOV
No. I’m thinking.

(Pause)

EMMA
You wrote Noir in a week.

CHEHOV
That’s not true.

EMMA
You had a read-through on the first day of rehearsal.

CHEHOV
That was a skeleton text. By opening night it had doubled in size.

EMMA
You sat down and wrote it. I remember.

CHEHOV
The final version took months.

EMMA
Do you have a skeleton text for this one?

CHEHOV
No. I keep writing scenes, but I can’t put them together. The rhythm is all wrong.
(Stage left, OLGA picks up the phone and dials. The phone rings)
Hello?

EMMA
Do you have a title?

CHEHOV
The Women.

OLGA
Tony?

EMMA
The Women?

CHEHOV
(To OLGA)
Don’t call me that.

EMMA
Olga?

CHEHOV
Yes.
(Pause. To EMMA)
Three Women?

EMMA
Seriously?

OLGA
Tony? Are you there?

CHEHOV
Yes.
(To EMMA)
Not good?

OLGA
What?

CHEHOV
I’m not talking to you.

OLGA
You are talking to me.

CHEHOV
Don’t be absurd. Please. Not today.
(To EMMA)
Then what?

OLGA
We have rats in the attic. At least I think they’re rats. They keep eating things, chewing constantly. What if they chew through the ceiling? The attic hatch is in my bedroom. What if they fall on me while I’m asleep?

CHEHOV
It could be a squirrel.

EMMA
Three Sisters.

CHEHOV
Three Sisters…Good title.

OLGA
What?
(Beat)
It’s not a squirrel. Squirrels are funny. And manic. Rats are consistent. They’ve been chewing at the same pace for hours. Chew-chew-chew. Perhaps they’re eating one of their own. If it’s injured. Animals do that.

CHEHOV
So do people.

EMMA
What do people do?

CHEHOV
Eat their own. Like cannibals.

OLGA
Who are you talking to?

CHEHOV
Emma.

OLGA
Why?

CHEHOV
Because she’s here.

OLGA
Why?

CHEHOV
Because she lives here. Are you all right?

OLGA
Of course I’m not fucking all right. The rats are chewing constantly, and yesterday I found four dead beetles in the living room, and something large is buzzing and flying through the house as we speak. It’s a fucking nightmare.

CHEHOV
I’m sorry.

OLGA
That’s it?

CHEHOV
I’m really sorry…

OLGA
But not sorry enough to get off your ass and help me?

CHEHOV
I’m not heroic.

OLGA
I’m terrified, Tony! There are things chewing through the walls, flying through the house, and dropping dead on the living room floor. The house is drenched in poison which is probably killing only me, because if I go on like this I’ll either get cancer from pesticides or drop dead of a heart attack. And then there’s my diet.

CHEHOV
What does your diet have to do with anything?

OLGA
You know how I can eat only a few things…because of allergies…It’s been very difficult. I can’t eat out, like nobody will go out with me anymore because I can basically have water, coffee, polenta, and whiskey. I’m no longer fun.

CHEHOV
You’re still fun if you can have whiskey.

OLGA
Stop mocking me. With these home invasions, I’m so nauseated all the time, I can’t eat at all. I’m wasting away, like a lone reed. The house is a fucking rabitat.

CHEHOV
What?

OLGA
A rat habitat: a rabitat.

CHEHOV
I do empathize.

OLGA
Oh poor you. All this sentiment must be so hard on you.

CHEHOV
What do you want?

OLGA
I want you to get in your fucking car and come here and help me. I’m alone. I’m afraid. I’m surrounded by fauna.

CHEHOV
And you want to go to Morocco? Do you know the kind of insects they have there?

EMMA
What are you talking about?

CHEHOV
Olga has rats.
(Beat)
And beetles.

EMMA
Are you going to help?

CHEHOV
It’s a little inconvenient…

OLGA
Tony. Are you going to do something about this?

CHEHOV
What can I do? I’m sorry you have rats…And beetles. I truly am. It’s an old house. Where are your sisters?

OLGA
What does that have to do with anything? I called you.

CHEHOV
I’m sure you’ll be fine.
(Pause)
I’m excited about rehearsal tomorrow.

OLGA
Good for you. I’m too afraid to go to bed.

CHEHOV
Sorry.

OLGA
If Marnie called, would you go?
(CHEHOV is silent)
If she called and said, “Tony, I’m in trouble, I’m afraid, I need you,” would you go? You would. And you know why? Because you think she’s extraordinary. Spontaneous, and creative, and clever, and unlike anyone you’ve met. She can do no wrong, our Marnie. I often think you spend time with me because she’s not there. You spend time with me because I’m available, and convenient, and not unpleasant company altogether, but if she were there, you’d forget me in a second. Do you know how awful that feels? Because – and I figured this out a while ago – it’s not that you’re not sentimental, or heroic. You’re not sentimental or heroic with me.
(Beat)
Good bye, Tony.

(OLGA hangs up. After a brief hesitation CHEHOV hangs up too)

EMMA
Problem?

CHEHOV
Why do you always ask that?
(Beat)
No.

EMMA
You can tell me.
(Pause)
Are you in love with her? Should I worry?
(CHEHOV is silent)
Are you in love with Lena?
(CHEHOV is silent)
Marnie?
(CHEHOV is silent)
Are you in love with anybody?

CHEHOV
I don’t know!
(Beat)
Questions, questions, everybody’s asking questions all the time. God, it’s exhausting. You want answers? Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know.
(Pause)
I want to be in love with somebody because this loneliness chokes me. I’m sorry I don’t have an answer for you. I’m working on a play. It’s my world. I carry it in my head, I live inside it, I belong to it and it belongs to me. Out here…in the “real world.” I don’t know what I feel, and what I feel changes so quickly, so terrifyingly –

EMMA
I don’t understand that.
(Beat)
You see people you’re attracted to, but the thought of being responsible for their happiness indefinitely is too much, so you let your moods guide you, and find flaws in their character you couldn’t possibly live with, and say, “I couldn’t possibly live with that,” and walk away. Do you ever look back? Do you regret your impulse? Do you know how this makes me feel? The way you lust after every actress who crosses that stage. The way your eyes light up at the possibility. The way your hands touch in rehearsal – you who cannot bear to be touched. And you want them all: nymphs and tomboys, with blue eyes, or brown eyes, with fair skin or dark complexion, interesting or shallow –
(Beat)
You used to look at me that way.

CHEHOV
You used to cross that stage.
(Beat)
The first time I saw you, you were heroic. Superb. You were playing Nora in A Doll’s House. I thought, this woman is an amazon. I loved you in a second.

EMMA
You loved me for a second. Now…I don’t know.
(Beat)
There are days when I think you have designs on the sound guy.

(Music stops abruptly)

J
(From the sound booth)
What?!

CHEHOV
(With a second’s delay)
What?

EMMA
Sorry, J, it was just a thought.

J
No problem.

(Music starts again)

CHEHOV
Seriously? I mean, he’s a nice guy…reliable…family man and all that, but then he takes off his shirt and you see all those tattoos…and you don’t know if he’s going to fix your mic or kill you and steal your drugs.
(Beat)
I think he was wearing eyeliner yesterday.

EMMA
And you noticed all that –

CHEHOV
Because he crossed the stage. Yes.
(Beat)
Do you think one can love two people at the same time, Em?

EMMA
No. That only means one person is not enough. And one person is never enough, Tony. Not for you.

CHEHOV
Marriage is unnatural.

EMMA
So is complete isolation. The people around you have souls; they’re not characters, not fictions. But you change your mind about them, and rearrange them in your life like characters in a play. They enter and exit at your pleasure. Even me.
(Pause)
But they’re people, Tony. Flesh and blood.

CHEHOV
I like the word flesh. Flesh…Say it. Flesh…You can almost taste it. Say it.

EMMA
Cannibal.

CHEHOV
People I like learn how to be with me too late.

EMMA
Nobody can be with you, Tony, it’s too much work. But if you reach a certain point –

CHEHOV
I find them irritating.

EMMA
…an understanding –

CHEHOV
I hate everybody.

EMMA
…beyond that point –

CHEHOV
What are you saying? Whatever it is, it’s taking too long.

EMMA
Are you bored?

CHEHOV
(Belligerent)
Maybe.

EMMA
Fine. This is the point: once I decided to love you, I could no longer get upset with you. Not fundamentally, not in a way that would change anything between us. You don’t do that. You get really angry, and in that moment you stop loving me. It’s barbaric. I don’t know how you do it. You forgive nothing. Everything changes in a second.

(Pause)

CHEHOV
You decided to love me?

EMMA
There’s always a moment when you stand there looking at the person who might derail your life, and in that moment, you have two choices: you run to him or you run away. Your love…You know he is your love, you recognize him instantly. But then you have to make a decision.
(Beat)
I did consider running away, but I took too long. By the time I was done, there was only one choice left.

CHEHOV
You ran to me.

EMMA
I walked. I knew it was the last time I’d be on my own.
(Pause)
Be careful, Tony. One day you might go too far.

CHEHOV
What would you do? Hit me?

EMMA
I’d leave and never look back.

(Fade on CHEHOV’s space. In the sisters’ living room an impromptu party is taking place. The sisters sing, dance, laugh, applaud with desperate enthusiasm. The music dies down. Fade. Lights on CHEHOV reading a letter. As he reads the first lines out loud, his voice overlaps with MARNIE’s who continues to read the letter until the end)

CHEHOV
On the subject of love.
(Beat)
You’ve only been gone four days and I already feel your absence. Is it too soon? Have I revealed too much? Am I without secrets?
(Beat)
I’ll always remember our first encounter by the lake house. You, slightly feverish –

MARNIE
You, slightly feverish – I thought it was emotion, but it was just fever; I, annoyed at your presence in the beginning – I had gone there to be alone, to relax – then slowly drawn to you. I knew who you were, at once. You believe in coincidences, I do not. There’s no such thing as a chance encounter. We met for a reason. We talked for hours, walked along the lakeshore, forgot to eat. You often do that, your friends tell me: forget to eat. Your friends tell me everything.
(Beat)
You begin writing a play and the moods take you, and you are unable or unwilling to detach yourself, to part with your characters. Your fever is not good for your health.
I am unable to detach myself from you. I have tried. But encounters such as these happen once in a lifetime, and when they do, if you miss their significance, their colossal impact on your life, you pay the price, eventually.
(Beat)
I went by your house in your absence. I walked in – you never lock your doors. Empty corridors, empty chairs, deep armchairs, thick carpets, heavy hangings. Stairs, steps, doors. Glass objects – still intact, empty glasses in your study. I sat at your desk, touched your papers. I won’t say love me, I won’t beg. But I’m often afraid to remember my dreams, because in my dreams I am attracted to you, and I want you to touch me, and I want to touch you until you beg me not to stop. And then I stop.

(Fade. Lights on both areas of the stage. In his study, CHEHOV rearranges cards that probably contain notes about plot points, characters, the structure of the play. Every time he changes the placement of a card there is a corresponding movement in the sisters’ area. When he tears a card, the sisters collapse, lifeless. This goes on for a while. Lights change)

EMMA
How’s the play coming?

CHEHOV
I hate that question.

EMMA
I know. Did you write anything today?

CHEHOV
Nope.

EMMA
What did you do all day?

CHEHOV
Who brought this letter?

EMMA
What letter?

CHEHOV
This letter!

EMMA
The postman, probably.

CHEHOV
No. I was here when the mail came and it was not with the rest of the correspondence. I always sort the mail. The letter wasn’t there. I found it on my desk later. Who put it there?

EMMA
How should I know? Why is it so important? Is it bills?

CHEHOV
Of course it’s not bills. The postman brings those. Bills. What a stupid idea.

(Pause)

EMMA
So what did you do today?

CHEHOV
I took a walk. Exercised. Made myself lunch. Did some laundry. Sorted mail. I was very productive.
(Beat)
It was awful.

EMMA
Did you miss me?

CHEHOV
Did you get milk? We’re out of milk. I hate having tea without milk. The whole morning’s ruined. I think, what fine weather today, and I can’t decide whether to have black tea or to hang myself.

EMMA
Why can’t you answer a simple question?

CHEHOV
Because you never ask any. All your questions are complex, and difficult, and require total concentration.

EMMA
And this is a problem.

CHEHOV
It is for me. There are days when I just want to talk about the weather.
(Pause)
We always follow the same pattern, you and I. You start talking, or I do, and I tell you about my day, and we have dinner, and a glass of wine –

EMMA
Several glasses of wine…Too much wine…

CHEHOV
…and then you start asking all these questions, and you prod, and you poke, until all I want to do is leave.

EMMA
Me?

CHEHOV
Don’t be dramatic. Leave the room.

EMMA
You know why I do it, Tony?

CHEHOV
No. Why?

EMMA
Because, every time I look at you, I think it might be the last time. The last time I see your face. The last time I sit next to you, and take your hand, and listen to your voice. I get very close to you and you often resent it –

CHEHOV
I don’t…

EMMA
You do, Tony. You dislike prolonged contact with me, but I have to get close because I have this feeling that it won’t be for long, that we will be separated soon, and I’ll lose you forever. And that frightens me. Not because I’m needy, or afraid to be on my own, but because I’ve always recognized in you a certain –

CHEHOV
Recklessness?

EMMA
Despair. I’m sorry, Tony, but I’ve always seen it. A sadness that I think I can cure…Perhaps not forever. For a little while. So when we talk about the weather, or the price of tea, or your walks around the neighborhood, I always feel like we’re wasting time because there’s so much more I want to know about you, and there’s so much you don’t know about me.

CHEHOV
I know everything about you.

EMMA
What’s my favorite color?

CHEHOV
(Triumphant)
Red.

EMMA
Blue. How do I take my coffee?

CHEHOV
Black, strong, two sugars.

EMMA
That’s how you take it.

CHEHOV
We like the same things.

EMMA
No…
(Beat. Sigh)
I often think about home invasions.

CHEHOV
What?

EMMA
Home invasions. There’s something barbaric about them…I think it’s because you’re attacked in your own home, the place where you’re supposed to feel safe. And you’re tortured, and often killed and, outside, the neighborhood goes about its business, unwilling or unable to help. Nobody rescues anybody, Tony. That only happens in the movies. In reality, you get tortured, and raped, and killed – not necessarily in that order, because there are psychopaths who’d rather kill you first and then –

CHEHOV
Must we talk about this?

EMMA
The point is…you couldn’t do anything about it. You wouldn’t be strong enough.

CHEHOV
Thanks.

EMMA
I mean, you’re tiny.

CHEHOV
I don’t like thinking of myself as “tiny.”

EMMA
Diminutive, then.

CHEHOV
How is that better?

EMMA
Come on, Tony. Picture it: men with ski masks and guns.

CHEHOV
I’d rather not, thank you.

EMMA
You couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t protect me.
(Beat)
I could do something…

CHEHOV
What could you do?

EMMA
I could ridicule the leader. There’s always one in the group who’s the leader and you’re supposed to focus on him…as the victim, I mean. I saw a program about this. So he’s the one I’d mock.
(Beat)
I read a story once about a man who attacked a woman, and she made fun of him, and he ran away.

CHEHOV
The things you say…Pray tell: how would you ridicule the man with the gun?

EMMA
Oh, I’d say that, compared to you, he’s a joke. I’d tell him you’re a sex god. And laugh. Like this: hahahaha. Haha.

CHEHOV
Jesus.

EMMA
Yeah. That would put a damper on things, don’t you think? I mean, who could rape you after that? I mean me. Who could rape me.
(Pause)
I had a friend in college who said she could never be raped because she was always willing. Think what that statement could do to a political campaign.
(Beat)
Tony? Are you listening to me?

(Pause)

CHEHOV
Do you really think I’m a sex god?

EMMA
(Amusement in her eyes)
Of course, my love. Why would I lie about that?

(Fade. Spotlight on CHEHOV)

CHEHOV
The French call it amour-propre. Self-love. I see myself as you see me. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing. You build my ego, then tear me down like a damaged cathedral. There are moments when I despair completely…Altogether my life is a dreary one, and there are days when I hate everything and I feel like running away from home. People borrow money they don’t pay back, take my books, waste my time in long, stupid conversations….And you…you ask for definitive answers, and I don’t know what to tell you because I don’t believe in lasting, mutual happiness. Too much would have to be sacrificed. My freedom.
(Beat)
You write daily. I’ve come to depend on your letters, like air. I need them to survive. And I know you so intimately from their contents, it seems barbaric that we’ve never met. I can’t even complain that we spend huge tracts of time apart because we’ve never shared the same space. How do you know me so well? How can you love me so unconditionally? Why is it that I feel I could sacrifice anything for you, except my work?
(Beat)
I am ill. My addiction is catching up with me, but you already know that. You say that I remind you of your father, of your lover, of yourself. I don’t believe you. I don’t believe the intensity of your feelings. There are days when I hate conforming to the image you have of me. Do you know that I’ve been told I’m capable of both great generosity and harsh callousness towards lovers and friends? I’ve always craved, with equal passion, the company of others and the solitude necessary for work. Tell me: how would you reconcile such contradiction?
(Beat)
There are too many words, I’m drowning in words. In dreams, we talk for hours and nobody watching from the outside would think we’re not together. All this to say: I want you now, and for a very long time. But not forever.

(Choreographed scene – CHEHOV and the women on the set of Three Sisters as CHEHOV directs a scene in his head. He imagines the women’s silhouettes moving across the stage, occupying different positions, coming together, parting ways. After each freeze frame, he steps back to get a better look. Choreographed moment ends. Change of lights. From the balcony, CHEHOV watches the rehearsal of a scene in his play)

OLGA
Where have you been? I looked for you everywhere.

LENA
There’s a fire downtown.

OLGA
A bonfire?

LENA
Don’t be ridiculous. The art gallery burned down. The one with the painting you like. The blue girl.

OLGA
The girl in blue?

LENA
Yeah. Everything’s gone. There’s nothing left but ashes.

OLGA
Why did you go?

LENA
I was curious.

OLGA
I was lonely.

LENA
Get a dog.

OLGA
Dogs are difficult.

LENA
Get a man.

OLGA
Men are impossible.

LENA
A woman?
(Beat)
I can’t spend all my time with you. I’m young. I want to live.

OLGA
Destruction comforts you.

LENA
I didn’t start the fire. I just watched it consume.

OLGA
I don’t know what’s worse.

LENA
You’re angry.

OLGA
And you have too much time on your hands. Get a job.

LENA
I don’t want to work. Working is boring.

OLGA
But we must work. What else is there? We must live, and we must work, and we must be content.

LENA
I am content.

OLGA
You don’t count.
(Beat)
In two, three years you’ll die in a car crash or I’ll lose patience and strangle you with my own hands, my angel.

(Enter MARNIE)

MARNIE
Are we talking about death again? How sweet. It must be Sunday.
(Beat)
Hello, my darlings.

OLGA
Hello, Marnie. How’s life?

MARNIE
Boring.
(Beat)
My husband is a dependable, hard-working man. He leaves the house at 6 in the morning and gets back every evening at 5. At 5:15 he has a cup of coffee. At 6 he eats dinner, always chicken and greens, always cooked the same way. Then he showers and goes to bed. Every day. He never deviates, never tires of the routine. God, how he bores me.

OLGA
You married him.

MARNIE
He married me. At the time, he was the most interesting man I knew.

LENA
He was the only man you knew.

MARNIE
Yes. Father loved isolation.

OLGA
And hated the men who courted you.

LENA
Father hated everybody.
(Pause)
It’s been three years to the day since he died.
(Pause)
You know today’s my birthday? Leave it to him to drop dead on my birthday.

OLGA
Lena!

MARNIE
Happy birthday, my darling.

LENA
(To OLGA)
Well, it’s true. Father ruined my birthdays for the rest of my life. We can never celebrate. We must be sad, and mourn, and have people over, and talk in a whisper, and remember him…
Not this year. This year we party like it’s the end of the world. I bought a lot of vodka.

MARNIE
It is the end of the world.

OLGA
I won’t have you talk about father that way.

LENA
Daddy’s girl.

MARNIE
(Eats a macaroon)
Be nice, Lena.
(Breaks character)
I’m sorry. Can we do this again? It feels strange, somehow. Uncomfortable.

LENA
Perhaps that’s the point. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing either. The only direction I got was “go with your instinct,” but I have no instincts about Lena. I don’t understand her.

OLGA
We’re wasting time. Where do you want to start?

MARNIE
“Daddy’s girl.” Let’s take it from there.
(Toward sound booth)
Sorry, J.

J
No problem. But I thought it was fine.
(Music starts)

LENA
The sound guy thought it was fine.

OLGA
We’re ok then.

LENA
(Without transition, both in and out of character)
Daddy’s girl.

MARNIE
(Eats a macaroon)
Be nice, Lena.

OLGA
Why can’t we have normal conversations, like normal people?

MARNIE
Because we’re not.
(Beat)
Do you want to be normal?

LENA
What do normal people talk about?

OLGA
The weather…I want to be like everyone else. I want to blend in. It would help with my job at the school.

LENA
“My job at the school.” You sound like you’re cleaning toilets over there. You’re a teacher, for god’s sake. It’s a vocation.

OLGA
It’s a job. There are days when I hate my job.

LENA
Not today. Today we celebrate.

OLGA
All those girls shouting and running around. Why do kids have so much energy? It’s exhausting.
(Pause)
I’m only 28, but I feel ancient. When I wake up in the morning, it’s still dark outside. I have a cup of coffee and think how nice it would be to go back to bed. Let the school burn down.

LENA
It wasn’t the school. It was the art gallery.

OLGA
(Doesn’t notice the interruption)
This morning I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make myself get up, so I had my coffee and then fell asleep on the sofa for 15 minutes. It took effort to get up after that. One day I won’t get up.
(Pause)
I’m 28. Do you know what I dream of? Retirement. I feel so old…

MARNIE
I’m 45 but I feel 20.
(Pause)
I should have an affair with a younger man.

LENA
Why?

MARNIE
To feel something again.

OLGA
Embarrassment?

LENA
Is it too early to drink? It’s my birthday.

MARNIE
It’s never too early, my pet.

LENA
Great. Who wants a Woo-Woo?

(Fade. Lights. The scene has ended, the actresses relax)

MARNIE
That felt better.

OLGA
I don’t know.

MARNIE
What?

OLGA
I don’t know…Why can’t we have an all-women cast? I thought that was the plan in the beginning.

MARNIE
Does it matter?

LENA
It would be a better play. Without the men.

MARNIE
Yeah, but what would the women do? They’d get together and wait for a man.

LENA
Why?

MARNIE
Because that’s when things would start happening.

OLGA
But the sisters don’t talk about anything important. It’s all about what they’ve eaten, or how much they’ve slept, or if it rained that day. The fucking weather. Nothing is resolved. Nobody talks about issues.

MARNIE
Nobody talks about issues. People make small talk. It’s called civility. Like when they ask, “How are you?” and you’re supposed to say “Fine, thank you,” even if you’re dying inside. Fine, thank you. Because that’s what they want to hear. Have you ever tried telling someone how you really feel? When they say “How are you,” have you ever said, “Well, let me tell you about my tragedies – with the day I’ve had today, it’s a fucking miracle I haven’t slit my wrists yet.”
(Beat)
You should try it sometime.

OLGA
I have to make a phone call.

(OLGA is on the phone having a pretty heated argument with someone. MARNIE pours herself a glass of wine, then reapplies make up. LENA addresses CHEHOV who’s still up on the balcony)

LENA
Well? What do you think?

CHEHOV
No, it’s good.

LENA
Why would you say that?
(Imitates him)
“No, it’s good,” like you’re already arguing. Why are you so defensive?
(Beat)
What’s wrong with the scene?

CHEHOV
I don’t know.

LENA
You wrote it.
(Beat)
It’s me, isn’t it? It’s me, but you don’t have the courage to say it.
(Pause)
Say it.

CHEHOV
It’s not you.

LENA
Why are you being kind? Why now? You weren’t kind before.
(CHEHOV looks uncertain)
What? You forgot already?
(Pause)
I threw myself at you and you rejected me.

CHEHOV
Oh, that…

LENA
Is this funny to you? I stood in my underwear in the middle of your fucking living room and you started talking about the weather. You said it was getting chilly for that time of year and I should put something on. You offered me tea.

CHEHOV
I didn’t want to upset you.

LENA
Oh, that’s what you didn’t want to do…
(Beat)
Were you drunk? Whiskey dick?
(She waits for the insult to have an impact. CHEHOV is silent)
You destroyed my confidence. I felt ashamed and humiliated. I would have done anything for a better part.

CHEHOV
What’s wrong with Lena?

LENA
I wasn’t pretty enough for you? Is that it?

CHEHOV
You are pretty. What’s wrong with playing Lena?

LENA
But not pretty enough. For you. Is it Olga? Do you have a thing for her? Of course you do.
(Beat)
It can’t be Marnie. She’s too old.

CHEHOV
I don’t have a ”thing” for anybody.

LENA
Liar. You mean it’s not sexual, like you’re Andy Warhol now, completely uninterested in sex? Everyone’s interested in sex. That’s what’s underneath all this polite bullshit: hard, dark, unadulterated sex. Everyone wants it, everyone fantasizes about it. The history of civilization is a front for the history of sexuality. I don’t care how suave you are: if I put my hand down your pants and squeeze, you’re going to howl with the rest of them.
(Beat)
Do you want me to show you?

CHEHOV
No…

LENA
Are you still thinking with your head? You poor bastard. You know what’s wrong with this scene? You. Some idiot told you once that you write women well, so that’s all you write now: repressed schoolteachers and tragic spinsters. The fuck do you know about women? What do you know about me? I’m not depressed. I’m not weak. I’m not Lena, ready to drink away my first world problems – speaking of which, who the fuck drinks Woo-Woos with peach schnapps and cheap vodka? Is that what you think women drink?
(Beat)
I’d love to play with you sometime.

(Long pause)

CHEHOV
Are you writing to me, by any chance? Letters?

LENA
What? No. The fuck would I wanna do that?

(Very slowly, CHEHOV climbs down the stairs)

OLGA
Is this a new scene?
(She looks through the script)
Nobody tells me anything.
(Beat)
We’ll need a parental advisory on the poster.
(Beat)
Because of the language…
(Beat)
Lena?

LENA
Fuck off.

(Fade. Lights on CHEHOV’s study)

CHEHOV
You often speak of god. God, the master builder, the playwright, the director. Until quite recently, I was a religious man, and yet, as a child, I always felt like a little convict singing “The Archangel’s Voice” in church. Despite having a religious education, I’ve become an atheist. Do you understand what I’m telling you? I’ve always lived inside a fracture. I’ve never had the courage to fight for what I truly wanted for fear that, once possessed, the object of my desire will no longer be wonderful.
(Beat)
All I’ve ever wanted was to be loved…and to be left alone.
(Beat)
I want to go to a place where nobody knows me, where nobody judges me, where my life and how I live it is nobody’s business. Am I too blunt? Believe me, it’s not in my nature. And don’t be angry with me. I have no one in the world but you.
(Beat)
I’m writing a play that needs a tragedy. I am at an impasse. Every character’s life is tragic, but I don’t know why. And yet I wrote them. I write myself in every character. And there are things I admire and despise in every character. I sit here thinking that people won’t recognize stagnation, the absence of happiness, as a tragedy because most of them stagnate and are deprived of happiness. What then? The death of a child? We are not meant to survive our children. Perhaps a mother whose child has died will try to die herself, try very hard after that, but will be too much of a coward to take her own life. Is that a recognizable tragedy? I am a coward. I’d rather live
disappointingly than disappear altogether. But we don’t talk about such things. What good would that do? What can we do but live, and work, and be content?

(Fade. Lights. Time has passed)

EMMA
Is the fire necessary? In the scene?

CHEHOV
It’s a diversion.

EMMA
From what?

CHEHOV
Life.

EMMA
But nobody’s living, Tony. Nothings happens in this play. Nobody leaves, nobody loves, nobody dies. What’s the point?

CHEHOV
The fire consumes. It shows them what they’ve lost…
(EMMA begins to protest)
So they haven’t lost anything in the fire. Fine. But they understand the concept of loss. They internalize it. They want…

EMMA
How can you possibly know what they want?

CHEHOV
I wrote them.

EMMA
Nonsense. Do you know what I want, Tony? I want you to see me. I want you to talk to me like I’m not a nuisance.

CHEHOV
Don’t…

EMMA
I want you to remember the first time we met. I want you to count the hours until I get home everyday to make your tea, and find your cigarettes, and warm your bathwater. Can you imagine life without me, Tony? Every morning you wake up there’s hot coffee, and the newspaper on your desk, and a clean, pressed shirt, and dusted pillows on the back of the armchair. Who do you think does all that? Who thinks of you every moment of every day? Who makes sure you take your medication, and have enough to eat, and are never sad?

CHEHOV
I am often sad.

EMMA
I know, my love. But it’s a smaller sadness than it would be without me.
(Pause)
What I’m saying, Tony, is that I would like to know that you love me a little. Do you?

CHEHOV
Not today.

EMMA
But do you need me?

CHEHOV
(Pause. Quietly)
I need you.

EMMA
Like air?

CHEHOV
Like air.

EMMA
I need you too.

(Fade. Lights on LENA reading the letter that CHEHOV now holds in his hands)

LENA
On the subject of sex.
(Beat)
You remind me of Jack Kerouac. I remember reading this somewhere: “Jack was known for his willingness to sleep with anything, though he preferred to live off various women while writing his novels.” He had a one night stand with Gore Vidal, did you know that? Vidal was living with a girl at the time. In the Village. I often wonder what happened to her. Nobody asks about the women behind these great men. Don’t they realize the men are great because of the women?
(Beat)
You were obscure once. Think about that.

(CHEHOV crumples the letter and throws it away. Pours himself a drink. Goes downstage center where MARNIE is already waiting. A stylized sex scene takes place where CHEHOV seems to be the violated party. At some point he becomes a willing participant. The scene ends, oddly, with MARNIE holding him in a pose vaguely resembling the Pietà. Fade. Lights on CHEHOV and MARNIE seated next to each other. It’s not clear whether the previous scene has actually happened. This is not important)

MARNIE
I’m thinking about getting a cat. A great, big orange cat I’d call Marlowe.
(Beat)
Or a dog. A cat or a dog.
(Beat)
I just want something around the house I can call Marlowe.
(Pause)
I married young, barely out of school. My husband seemed to me extraordinary then.
(Beat)
Things have changed.

CHEHOV
Things tend to do that.

MARNIE
Don’t be an ass, Tony.
(Pause)
I got used to my husband. We’re not that unhappy…
(Beat)
Do you know there’s no word for it? This state of not-quite-unhappiness. The same way there’s no single word for “not lonely.” There is loneliness and not-loneliness. Not-isolation. Not-complete-misery. But there isn’t one word that captures it all. Why do you think that is? Is it because we’re surrounded by less and less educated people and nobody cares about words anymore? I care about words. Coarseness and vulgarity offend me.

CHEHOV
You’re not alone…Everybody feels the same.

MARNIE
You mean I’m ordinary.

CHEHOV
No. Why do you twist my words? I mean, it doesn’t matter if people are educated or illiterate. They all feel the same things, they’re all fed up with their lives, and their jobs, and their husbands, and their wives…The educated ones have a vocabulary for their unhappiness, that’s all.

MARNIE
Yes, but why?

CHEHOV
Why does the man in the street find life unbearable?

MARNIE
You’re a little depressing today.

CHEHOV
Only today? I despair constantly.

MARNIE
So do I.
(Beat)
I will have to tell them; to confess.

CHEHOV
Confess?

MARNIE
There are three things that matter, Tony: hope, faith, and love. But the greatest of the three is love.
(Beat)
I used to pity you. Oh, don’t look so outraged, I did. But then I got close to you and I began to see something…I think it’s what Emma sees in you. That’s why she puts up with you.

CHEHOV
What did you see?

MARNIE
(Brief pause)
I like your thighs. They’re strong thighs. Attractive.
(Beat. CHEHOV is speechless)
Did I ever tell you, Tony, that I saw a movie once where a couple was sitting in a restaurant talking about thighs, and bottoms, and breasts…don’t look so shocked. You’re not a prude…and they noticed that there are so many other words for bottoms and breasts – butt, ass, backside, derriere, bosom, cleavage, boobs, tits – but there are no other words for thighs.

CHEHOV
Because thighs is a perfectly good word.

MARNIE
That’s what he said! The man in the movie. And then somebody cut his throat, and held him against a mirror so he could see his own death.
(Beat)
I’m not saying that’s going to happen to you. All I’m saying is that you invite violations.

CHEHOV
I –

MARNIE
There is a softness around your face, and your arms, and your thighs – something almost feminine. And you know how women attract violence…at least that’s what men say, that women provoke. Do you agree?
(Beat)
I don’t know. It’s difficult to know where you stand.
(Beat)
You’re very quiet.

CHEHOV
What do you want me to say? I mean, Jesus, what can one say to all this? What are you doing? I don’t understand anything anymore.

MARNIE
I am confessing, Tony. I am revealing things. Didn’t you say you wanted to know your actors better? Or was it your characters? I can’t remember…But you did say once that you wanted to cut me open and see what’s inside. You wanted to dissect me…no…no, that’s not the word you used. You said vivisect. Cut me open alive. Well, here I am, split open. Tell me what you see.
(Beat)
Nothing?
(Beat)
We spend so much time together. And this play. This world we’re making, is one of the best things I’ve done. I am grateful. And I love you for it. But you already know that. I’ve never made a secret of the way I feel. Or my age.

CHEHOV
Old age terrifies me. I don’t want to grow old.

MARNIE
You’re such a fool, thinking about age the way you do. Don’t you see how age has freed me, how I can do what I want without fear of consequences, how I can say what I think?

CHEHOV
There are no acts without consequences.

MARNIE
And yet I can say: I love your face, I love looking at it, I love the color of your eyes, and the shape of your bottom lip.
(Beat)
I can say: I would like to kiss you before this play is over, one of those old-fashioned kisses like in the movies, where people take their time and linger, although their lips barely touch. It’s the proximity that’s tantalizing, the promise of it, not the consummation.
(Beat)
Age taught me this. It’s taught me to always speak the truth, however painful, because it saves time and time, Tony, is what we don’t have.
(Pause)
I have no interest in your body. Am I lying? I can’t be sure…Your soul is another matter. I care about your soul deeply, although you can be a bastard at times. I read somewhere a strange definition of love – that you don’t love someone unless you forgive their darkness, and that’s when I knew I loved you, Tony, because I always forgive your darkness, I love the dark things in your nature…Your vices are the best part of you if you can control them.

CHEHOV
You said you saw something in me. What Emma sees…
(Intense)
What did you see? Tell me! I need to know. Do you find me unusual? Irresistible? Extraordinary? Do you think there’s nothing good about you but your love for me? I need to know. When I hold you in my arms, do you feel you have to surrender completely, or regret it for the rest of your life? Tell me!

MARNIE
Oh, my poor darling. How lost you are. Don’t despair. In two, three hundred years, this life that appears so strange and uncomfortable to us today, will be beautiful.
(Beat)
The tide is coming in, and it will sweep away every boredom and every useless creature.

CHEHOV
What are you saying?

MARNIE
Relationships are nothing but traps.
(Beat)
Are you sure your relationships are real, Tony? Are you sure they actually happened? Can’t you see reality changing sides? Fantasy and reality aren’t just intertwined — they are indistinguishable…
(Beat)
You should have written all of this down.

CHEHOV
Do you write me letters? Is it you?

MARNIE
No…What would I say in a letter that I haven’t already told you?
(Beat)
You know the great, moralizing authors? Dostoyevsky, Mann, Balzac…I think of you as The Great Demoralizer. You bring people down. You drown, and drown, and you take people with you, and they don’t protest because they love you, and are willing to die for you.
(Beat)
I don’t want to die for you, but I do love you. I am in love with you. For you, I’d leave my family, my children, this town…There is no doubt in my mind that you are the love of my life. This is a fact. This is my confession.
(Beat)
And yet I feel younger than yesterday. Everything is all right. Everything is destiny.
(She reaches for his face)
I think I’m free of you now.

(Fade. Lights on CHEHOV’s study. CHEHOV is writing a letter)

CHEHOV
There’s no privacy in my plays because I have no privacy. I must suffer in public, surrounded by friends and family. Not lovers. Never lovers. In my plays people never love the ones who long for them. Affairs of the heart are always out of sync. Do you think me cruel? Do you still love me unconditionally?
(Beat)
Life is constant. It will be the same a million years from now. It will follow its own rules which don’t concern us. But what’s the meaning of it? We must know what we’re living for. Otherwise it’s all nonsense.
(Beat)
I don’t think I can live without you, my happiness. How will I go from day to day when you stop writing? Maybe I don’t exist at all. Maybe I just pretend that I have arms, and legs, and nose, and mouth…How comforting it would be not to be real. Then none of this would be happening.
(Beat)
I told my therapist about you. She said, don’t chase chimeras. Go to a place where you feel completely safe and think of something else. I said, I don’t have such a place.

(Storm sounds interrupted by the distant sounds of war: cries, gun shots, explosions. The sisters react. In his chair, CHEHOV protects his drink)

EMMA
(Shouting to make herself heard)
You must stop this, Tony.

CHEHOV
I’m not doing anything.

EMMA
There’s a war between your head and your heart and we’re all trapped inside.

(Huge commotion in the sisters’ area. Things collapse. LENA and MARNIE try to hold everything in place. OLGA runs towards them but a new explosion sends her to the ground)

LENA
Stop this! You must stop this.

(Lights flicker in CHEHOV’s study)

EMMA
You must stop this, Tony.

CHEHOV
I don’t know how.

EMMA
Control your emotions. We can’t have everything we want!

(Everything stops suddenly. Lights regain intensity. The stage is destroyed)

CHEHOV
(After a pause)
Why not?

(Fade. In blackout)

CHEHOV’S VOICE
You say that writers are chosen by god. I will not contradict you. You need your convictions and I care too much about you to try and take those certainties away. I doubt myself constantly.
(Beat)
I read a story once about shadow cities – dark, raw, underground versions of the cities above, like a shadow self. You are my shadow self. I am yours. I feel what you feel, I know what you think, I see who you are. Is this love? And if it is, how do we run away from it?
(Beat)
You ask how I am. I don’t know how I am. All I know is that I find interactions with people increasingly painful. And maybe it is not for me to speak of disappointments. Maybe I haven’t suffered enough. I don’t know who speaks through my lips—god or someone I haven’t abandoned yet, but I will mention one little drawback: I am fond of ordinary people, but other people are fond of me because they think that I am not ordinary. No one loves the ordinariness in me. If, in the eyes of my friends, I should appear as a simple mortal tomorrow, they’d leave off loving me, and would only pity me. Tell me: what would you do?
(Beat)
I’m leaving for Morocco in a few days. Don’t call here. I’ve bought myself an officer’s leather coat, sturdy boots, and a big knife for hunting tigers. I am equipped from head to foot. I might go to Barcelona first. I’ve always wanted to see Gaudi’s cathedral. Touch the walls, feel the texture. You know how I’m tactile.
(Beat)
I know what you’ll say: what about my friends, my family, the public? I no longer care about anybody. I’m tired in my soul. But you are always with me. And you protect me against myself.

(In blackout a phone rings. Lights. OLGA is on the phone, in the sisters’ area.
EMMA, who is straightening out the room, picks up. OLGA listens for a moment, then hangs up. After a quick hesitation she calls again)

EMMA
(To CHEHOV while continuing to put things back)
It’s for you.

CHEHOV
Hello?

OLGA
Are you alone?

CHEHOV
No.

OLGA
Can I see you?

(Pause)

CHEHOV
Can this wait?

OLGA
No.
(Beat)
Meet me at the theatre? Now?

CHEHOV
Okay.

EMMA
Problem?

CHEHOV
I have to go.

EMMA
Which one this time?

CHEHOV
Olga.

EMMA
Be careful there.

(CHEHOV seems annoyed. He crosses the stage and walks to the sisters’ area. Sits and waits. Time passes. Then he notices OLGA walking toward him excruciatingly slowly, on crutches. After what feels like an eternity, she reaches him. She looks at him in silence)

CHEHOV
I’m sorry.

OLGA
Don’t worry about it.

CHEHOV
If there’s anything I can do, anything at all –

OLGA
You’ve done enough.

CHEHOV
I’m sorry.

OLGA
For what, exactly?

CHEHOV
For losing control. For hurting you.

OLGA
Yes.
(Beat)
You’ll have to write the crutches into the play.

CHEHOV
(Suddenly animated)
Oh, that’s not a problem. I already have a few ideas –

OLGA
Shut up, Tony.

CHEHOV
Okay.

OLGA
I’m falling apart.

CHEHOV
(Same tone)
Okay.
(Beat)
I’m sorry to hear that.

(Pause)

OLGA
That’s it. That’s your response.

CHEHOV
I can’t take you seriously. You look great. I mean, apart from the –

OLGA
Fractures. I look great apart from the fractures.

CHEHOV
Things can’t be that bad.

OLGA
Trust me, they are. My knee gave in the kitchen Saturday night. I didn’t fall. But I’ve been waking in more acute pain these last few mornings. I’ve been depressed lately. This isn’t helping.
(Silence)
I broke up with Trevor and I can’t stop eating.

CHEHOV
Who’s Trevor?

OLGA
My ex-boyfriend.

CHEHOV
Weren’t you with –

OLGA
Kennedy. Yes. That was before him.

CHEHOV
And before that, Betsy.
(Beat)
Was she the cook?

OLGA
Chef. No. That was Doreen.

CHEHOV
Who’s Trevor?

OLGA
Nobody. But we broke up and I can’t stop eating. Peanut butter. By the spoonful. And now I can’t run or exercise. And I think, what if I get fat? What if I don’t fit into my costume on opening night, or worse, I fit, but I have to squeeze into it and look like a stuffed sausage? And the promotional pictures are all wrong. I saw them after rehearsal yesterday and I realized that my head is too small. I look disproportionate. We need to do something about that.

CHEHOV
Like what?
(Pause)
You dated someone named Trevor.
(Utters the name several times as if trying it out)
Trevor. Trevor…Where did you meet Trevor?

OLGA
At the grocery store. Stop saying Trevor. I’m in trouble.

CHEHOV
I’m just trying to underst…Grocery? You shop?

OLGA
Why is this surprising?

CHEHOV
You eat? I mean, real food?
(Beat)
You eat, and you date a man named Trevor.

OLGA
Dated.
(Beat)
Does this change the way you see Olga? Why? Everyone’s bisexual now. It’s a reaction to the environment.

CHEHOV
What? How?

OLGA
Think about it. The economy’s in the toilet, people are depressed and eat their feelings, but because they’re poor – we’ve basically done away with the middle class; there’s the 1% and the underpaid – they eat crap: processed foods, genetically modified foods, Frankenfish and Uberchicken which is so stuffed with antibiotics that it’ll never get the avian flu, but will kill the first organism that ingests it…

CHEHOV
And this connects to bisexuality how?

OLGA
People eat cheaply because they can’t afford to eat well. They devour pastries, and breads, and sweets, and fast food fries which are basically indestructible. I mean, you consume them, and somehow they get eliminated, but if you were to leave them out, they’d never go bad. They’d remain in a state of suspended animation in perpetuity. For-e-ver.

CHEHOV
I know what in perpetuity means.

OLGA
The point is, look at this town. It has, what, a hundred thousand people? And every year the men get a little fatter and a little more depressed, and marry skinny women who get a little more depressed and let themselves go after marriage, and together, they make slack-jawed children with round faces and dead eyes who have no interest in school, and always look stunned the way fish look stunned when they open and close their mouths continuously, not because they’re curious about the world, but because their smooth brains swim in duck fat.

CHEHOV
(Lost)
The fish?

OLGA
The children. And then they try to move book illustrations with their fingers because they know about touch screen, but have never read a book, and we applaud them for it like they’ve learned something. So, you see, under the circumstances, there isn’t much choice. One can’t be picky and say, I date only boys or only girls, or only beautiful boys, or androgynous girls, because chances are, there aren’t enough good ones of either sex to go around. So everyone with a brain dates both. You get lemons, you make fucking lemonade. Hence: Trevor. But he’s gone now, and I eat six times a day, and I can’t run anymore thanks to you, and with the food allergies I told you about, for the next two weeks I can’t have coffee or wine or cheese or meat or eggs or grains or gluten or certain fruits or vegetables. I might be able to have blueberries. And tea.

(Half way through her speech CHEHOV peels and eats a banana. After a brief pause he speaks)

CHEHOV
I’m not quite sure what to say.

OLGA
What a surprise.

CHEHOV
(Still chewing)
I empathize. I’m an empathizer. I feel things intensely, but when I have to put those feelings into words I experience a barrage –

OLGA
You’re a writer.

CHEHOV
A blockage.

OLGA
Like a kidney stone.

CHEHOV
An obstruction whose impact I can’t describe.

OLGA
Because words fail you.

CHEHOV
Yes.

OLGA
You’re a writer and words fail you.

CHEHOV
Yes.

OLGA
You see how this might be a problem.

CHEHOV
I do. I just –

OLGA
Can’t put it into words.

CHEHOV
Exactly.
(Beat)
I’m glad we had this talk. I have to go now.
(Beat)
Oh, do you write me letters, by any chance?

OLGA
No. What would be the point of that?
(Beat)
I want you to rewrite the script.

CHEHOV
Not tonight. Tonight I have plans.

OLGA
The show is in three weeks. The script is not finished. Olga is depressing. I don’t know what I’m doing on the stage. What plans could you possibly have?

CHEHOV
I plan to get blind drunk tonight.

OLGA
Absinthe?

CHEHOV
Vodka. Why do you say Olga’s depressing? She has a job.

OLGA
But no prospects.

CHEHOV
Prospects? How Victorian. She makes decent money; she has a house, the company of her sisters…

OLGA
She’s not even thirty and all she talks about is retirement, and lesson plans, and grading. There’s no excitement. Nothing happens in her life. She doesn’t have sex.

CHEHOV
I don’t have sex.

OLGA
But you’re married.

CHEHOV
Exactly.

OLGA
Tony – and I’m saying this with much love – you’re an asshole. You’re always unhappy with what you have, and you wedge yourself between people all charm and wit, and they break up, and then you carry on with the girl for a while, and then you get bored, and start again. Do you know Marnie’s leaving her husband?

CHEHOV
It’s nothing to do with me. We’re just friends.

OLGA
You are despicable. If I were in a relationship, would you want me to break up?

CHEHOV
With Trevor? Absolutely.
(OLGA is fuming, silently)
Other people’s people are always annoying.

OLGA
Why doesn’t Olga have a relationship? She’s a school teacher, not a dentist. I mean, she doesn’t have her hands in people’s mouths all day long.
(Beat)
Highest suicide rate, by the way. Dentists.

CHEHOV
She has an ordinary life. I like it; I like writing about it. Do you know what her definition of happiness is? Happiness is when nothing happens.
(Beat)
Any idiot can face a crisis. It’s the day to day living that wears you out.

OLGA
But all those officers, and teachers, and politicians who come to the house…None of them pays any attention to her. Why? What’s wrong with her?

CHEHOV
She’s a spinster. That’s her tragedy.
(Laughs)
Marnie’s tragedy is that she’s not.
(Beat)
Look, this is an ensemble piece. Work with the character, not against it. And if you do…I promise you the part of a lifetime in my next play.

OLGA
Oh, Tony, will I have very many lines? Will I be the lead?

CHEHOV
Absolutely. You’ll be magnificent. And after that –

OLGA
We’ll paint the town red.

CHEHOV
Blue. Red is so passé.

(OLGA embraces him violently – crutches turn this into a slapstick moment – and leaves. CHEHOV returns home. He sits in his chair, sighs, and closes his eyes. EMMA approaches quietly and puts a cocktail in his hand. Gratefully, CHEHOV takes a large sip)

EMMA
Problem?

CHEHOV
It was emotional.

EMMA
Why do you always go?

CHEHOV
Because they need me. Because they’re my friends.

EMMA
Lovers?

CHEHOV
Don’t be ridiculous.

EMMA
Friends. Good.

CHEHOV
What do you mean, “good?”

EMMA
Exactly what I said. Good.

CHEHOV
Oh, no. You always mean more than you say. You always judge me.

EMMA
Do I?
(CHEHOV drinks)
You’re annoyed with me.
(Beat)
I’m glad you have friends, Tony. I’m glad you can rely on them, day and night. I’m glad they sustain you, and never let you down, and know what gets you through the day. It’s good to know that there are other people out there who see you for who you are.

CHEHOV
And what is that?

EMMA
A man with an affliction.
(Beat)
You need love more than anyone I know.

CHEHOV
Perhaps it’ll be the death of me. Here lies Anton Chehov. He died of an affliction.

EMMA
Not while I’m around, Tony.
(She caresses his face)
Not today.

(Silent scene in the sisters’ area. LENA and OLGA are exercising. It is not clear if they are liberating or punishing their bodies. OLGA makes an immense effort to adapt the exercise to her limited mobility. MARNIE watches them, engaged in a leisurely activity: she’s either doing her nails or having a drink. Or both. The intensity of the physical activity becomes unbearable)

MARNIE
I don’t understand why you do what you do. I’m exhausted just watching you. Are you trying to kill yourselves? Is this some kind of punishment? For what? You never do anything but work.
(To LENA)
Well, maybe not you. I don’t know what you do.

LENA
What do you do, Marnie?

MARNIE
Can we have tea?

LENA
No. Olga forgot to buy sugar.

MARNIE
Well, since we can’t have tea, let’s philosophize. That’s what I do: I think.

LENA
About what?

MARNIE
Relationships, men, women. Age and the world’s inability to deal with it. I think about happiness and travel; about aphrodisiacs and Morocco where they say you spread scented honey all over your body and allow the locals to lick it off. It’s all in the brochure.
(LENA’s laughing so hard she can’t breathe)
I also read. There’s this article about Elizabeth Taylor and her relationships with men. How she controlled and liked men and how men liked her.

LENA
That’s before she got fat.

OLGA
She got fat?

LENA
Yeah. Started eating hot dogs like it was her job.

MARNIE
You’re making things up. Probably because you envy her.

LENA
Yeah. I woke up this morning envying Elizabeth Taylor.

MARNIE
Listen to this. It says, “There was a chemistry between her and men coming from her own maternal instincts. The happy and successful heterosexual woman feels tender and maternal towards men, but this has been completely lost in our feminist era. Now women tell men: you have to be my companion and be just like a woman; be my best friend and listen to me chatter. In other words, women don’t really like men anymore; they want men to be like women.”

LENA
And only the “successful heterosexual woman” can feel tender towards men?

MARNIE
That’s what it says.

LENA
Well, if it’s in a book it must be true.
(Beat)
I want to go to Morocco.

MARNIE
One day, my pet. One day we’ll all go. Until then we must go on living…If we only knew what we must do…

(Fade. Lights on CHEHOV’s study. He’s reading another letter. This time, the letter is being read out loud by OLGA)

OLGA
On the subject of alcoholism.
(Beat)
Jack Kerouac died at 47. Do you think you’ll last that long? Jack bled internally; his liver gave, his gut filled with blood. He was drinking whiskey when that happened, when blood started pouring out of him.
(Beat)
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not asking you to change. We are who we are. But if you plan to live a very short life, at least make it meaningful. I try to live every day as if it were my last. Intensely. Are you capable of such intensity? Would you abandon your pleasant life to be with me? Would you follow me to the end of the world?
(Beat)
I wonder.

(Fade on OLGA. Lights in CHEHOV’s study)

EMMA
Tony?

CHEHOV
Hm?

EMMA
Ask me how I’m doing. Ask me if I’m afraid of anything.

CHEHOV
How are you doing, Em? Are you afraid of anything?

EMMA
I always panic at night. I think, what if you leave me? What if I have to do this alone?

CHEHOV
(Pays attention for the first time)
What?

EMMA
House. Life…What if I run out of money, or get sick and can’t work, or lose my eyesight, or have a stroke and become stupid? Or worse. Have a stroke and continue to think, to be completely normal on the inside, but on the outside, nothing – a total dependency on the kindness of strangers.

CHEHOV
Only it wouldn’t be kindness. You’d have to pay them to wipe the drool from your mouth.

EMMA
You are horrible.

CHEHOV
But you love me.

EMMA
(Pause)
You know I’ll always love you, whatever you do.

CHEHOV
Don’t say that.

EMMA
Why?

CHEHOV
Who knows what I might do…

EMMA
You’re such an idiot.
(Beat)
Tony?

CHEHOV
Don’t call me that.
(Beat)
What?

EMMA
What do you think is a woman’s greatest fear?

CHEHOV
Good god. I don’t know…Not having a career?

EMMA
Don’t be ridiculous. All I want is comfort. I don’t want to work for it.

CHEHOV
Children?

EMMA
Not having them?

CHEHOV
No. Having them.

EMMA
No…I don’t think so.

CHEHOV
Then what? You’re a woman. What is your biggest fear? That I’ll leave you for a girl?

EMMA
Don’t be absurd. For a boy, maybe.

CHEHOV
What? Why?

EMMA
Because I can’t compete with that. A younger woman, no problem. I’d jog a little, have a little facelift, eat kale. I’m smarter than a 20 year old floozy any day. But a younger man…what am I going to do, have a sex change?

CHEHOV
(Stunned silence)
You say the oddest things.

EMMA
What is your biggest fear, Tony?

CHEHOV
That you’ll leave me for a boy.

EMMA
Be serious.

CHEHOV
That, one day, I won’t be able to write.

EMMA
You’ll write on your deathbed. They’ll have to pry that pen from your cold, dead fingers. Stop lying.

CHEHOV
I’m not lying to you.

EMMA
No. To yourself. What terrifies you?

CHEHOV
You.

EMMA
You’re afraid of me?

CHEHOV
No. I’m afraid you’ll abandon me.

EMMA
(Uncertain laugh)
And you’ll die of a broken heart?

CHEHOV
No, that’s just it. I’m afraid I’ll go on living, but in a less significant way. I’m afraid you’ll take with you the best part of me. And I’ll stay here: diminished.

(Silence)

EMMA
Yes.

CHEHOV
You think I’m right?

EMMA
Oh yes. I am the best part of you, Tony.

(Fade. Lights on CHEHOV’s dream sequence which is a tango scene. CHEHOV’s different relationships with the women are reflected in the way he dances with them. The sequence ends with CHEHOV dancing, simultaneously, with all three sisters, as if the women were a single body, a single dance partner. Fade. Lights on CHEHOV’s study. EMMA reads a newspaper, CHEHOV mixes a cocktail)

EMMA
Listen to this, Tony. “Chehov’s characters are not destroyed by the environment, but destroy each other through their moods, passivity, and irresolution. A kind of paralysis overtakes them as they become more and more preoccupied with their own dilemmas and lose sight of each other’s tragedies. Essentially selfish and surprisingly altruistic at the same time, Chehov’s characters prove a simple point: that the world will not be destroyed by fire but by inactivity. Repetition, routine, the monotony of everyday existence slowly kills each ambition, each youthful dream. The Chehovian character’s statement, ‘I am content,’ translates into, ‘I am afraid, I am lonely, I am in pain.’ For him or her…”
(CHEHOV makes a sound of despair)
“…For him or her happiness is out of reach, as everyone desires—”

CHEHOV
Please stop.

EMMA
But it’s a really good review, Tony.

CHEKHOV
Don’t call me that.

EMMA
Why can your friends call you Tony and I can’t? Why is it that you’re never upset with them, but you’re so easily upset with me? What have I done?

CHEHOV
Not today, please. I’m trying to relax.
(Studies the spoon in his hand in silence)
This is a reliable spoon. I can get behind this spoon. This spoon means business.
(Balances it on his finger)
I’m committed to it.

(A silence)

EMMA
I got a call today. About a part…

CHEHOV
What part?

EMMA
Nora. In A Doll’s House…The part of a lifetime.

CHEHOV
You played it ten years ago. Why would you do it again?

EMMA
It wouldn’t be the same, Tony. I’ve changed.

CHEHOV
I don’t see the point. All that work for a three week run.

EMMA
Three months.

CHEHOV
You can’t do that.

EMMA
Why? Because you couldn’t live without me?

CHEHOV
No, I’d be ok, I think.
(Beat)
It’s just inconvenient.
(Beat)
Let’s not talk about it anymore.

(A silence)

EMMA
(Flips through the newspaper. Attempt at cheerfulness)
Listen to this. Says here that a man named Green lost his memory and had to invent a whole new life for himself…and when it came to choosing a name he went with Gold. First of all, if he did have amnesia, how did they know his name was Green? I mean, if they knew who he was, why didn’t they just tell him? I’m missing something…His name used to be Green and now it is Gold. Do you think that’s supposed to mean something?
(Beat)
I think, maybe, he was just boring. That’s all he could come up with: another color.
(Beat)
Maybe he got bored with his life. Maybe, every now and again, his wife attempted suicide, and one day he had enough. Maybe he didn’t lose his memory at all.
(Beat)
Tony? What do you think?

CHEHOV
I think it’s funny when people talk about losing their memory or their minds like they’ve just misplaced them…Or when they say “he’s out of sorts today,” like, here are his sorts and here he is, out of them. Or, “he took leave of his senses,” as if one day, this man, whoever he was, turned around and said, “Good bye, senses. I am leaving you. Our relationship has run its course…”

EMMA
I miss you, Tony.

CHEHOV
(As if he hasn’t heard her)
Did I ever tell you, Em, how when I was small, and mama and I went to the grocery store, she’d always leave me in the car with the windows closed. In summer. And then, of course, she’d run into people she knew, and they’d start talking, and she’d forget about me…Now people won’t even leave their dogs in the car without opening the windows, but that was in the ‘80s and no one cared.
(Beat)
Mooning was big in the ‘80s. Or was it the ‘90s? I can’t remember…

EMMA
But you were happy. As a child.

CHEHOV
No, I was not.
(Beat)
I am happy now.

EMMA
No. You’re not.
(Pause)
Tell me about the play.

CHEHOV
What’s there to tell?

EMMA
You’re struggling.

CHEHOV
It’ll be ok.

EMMA
You want an ok play? What’s the point of that?
(Beat)
Tell me.

CHEHOV
There are three women. Three sisters. They live in their father’s house. The play opens with the anniversary of his death. It’s been three years, and they seem to have lost direction. The father’s inflexibility gave them purpose: breakfast at 8, house chores at 9, dinner at 2, supper at 7. Accounts, and school work and, occasionally, the theatre. No suitors.
(Beat)
It’s about stagnation. And desire. And how nobody achieves happiness, ever.

EMMA
Why?

CHEHOV
Why aren’t they happy?

EMMA
Yes.

CHEHOV
Honestly? Because I don’t know how to be happy. I don’t know how to write happiness.

EMMA
What a colossal acknowledgment of failure.

CHEHOV
As a playwright?

EMMA
As a man.

CHEHOV
You don’t understand. I see it. I see the play in my head, scene by scene. And I see the women. The women are always there. I see them walking…no, gliding across the stage. I know their rhythm, I know how they move towards the inevitable. The worst possible turn of events.

EMMA
Why?

CHEHOV
Because why should they be happy if I’m not? And I’m not.

(Pause)

EMMA
(Exits for a moment, then returns with a coat and a bag)
Did it ever occur to you, Tony, that I’m not happy either?

CHEHOV
What? No. I mean, you’re always so…no. Never.

EMMA
I’ve been very unhappy for a while. I’ve had a lot of time to think. Life is constant. It will be the same a million years from now. It will follow its own rules which don’t concern us. But what’s the meaning of it? We must know what we’re living for, or it’s all nonsense.
(Beat)
I’ve been noticing the seasons. Happy people don’t notice whether it’s summer or winter. If I went to Morocco I wouldn’t care what the weather was like.

CHEHOV
Why didn’t you say anything?

EMMA
I did. I tried to tell you –

CHEHOV
You didn’t. You never – I would have –

EMMA
The letters, Tony. You asked everyone, but me. That woman whose letters you read and reread every evening, the one you dream about, the one you write to, the one you can’t live without…that was me. “I have no one in the world but you.” Such a dramatic statement, Tony. If you only knew…

CHEHOV
Why?

EMMA
Why did I write? I hoped you’d notice me again, recognize me in the words. But you didn’t.

CHEHOV
How could I?

EMMA
You’re right. How could you? We’ve only been together for ten years. Fourteen if you count the courtship, the affair, the friendship that came before the marriage. Not such a long time after all. Or, maybe, an eternity.
(Beat)
There’s a bowl of pasta in the fridge. I cooked a few dinners and put them in the freezer. I did the laundry and organized your closets. I threw out all the light-colored shirts; you shouldn’t wear them. You look better in dark colors: gray, black, navy, brown.

CHEHOV
What are you doing, Em?

EMMA
I paid the bills and mailed the rent check for next month. Trash pick-up is on Monday. Recycling on Thursday, but you never remember to recycle. The lawn man comes every other Wednesday. That should be all.

(She picks up her bag and walks toward the door)

CHEHOV
What are you doing, Em?

EMMA
I’m leaving you.

CHEHOV
You said that you’ll love me whatever I do.

EMMA
I do love you. That’s not going to change for a while.

CHEHOV
Then why…?

EMMA
I don’t think I can live with the disappointment. It’s not just that I know I’m not the one you want; it’s –

CHEHOV
The women. Three women…

EMMA
You didn’t recognize me in the words. It was like living with a blind man, one who can only see the surface of things. And I am so much more…You are a great man, Tony, but you are a small man as well. That’s the disappointment.

(She turns to leave)

CHEHOV
Can I write to you?

EMMA
No, never.

CHEHOV
Can I send you –

EMMA
No, nothing.
(The sound of applause)
The play is a success. A truly beautiful play. You write women so well…Everybody says so.
(Stage left, OLGA, LENA, and MARNIE take a bow as the sound of applause continues. As the sound dies down, the actresses leave the stage, one by one)
Good bye, Tony.

(EMMA leaves. Fade on the sisters’ space. Fade on EMMA’s chair)

CHEHOV
Look back. Look back at me!

(EMMA continues her exit. Fade on CHEHOV’s study)

THE END

***

Dayana Stetco is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her book, Seducing Velasquez and Other Plays, was released by Ahadada Books in 2009. Her plays have been produced in the U.S., her native country, Romania, and the UK, and her fiction, plays and translations have appeared in many journals including Requited, Two Lines, Packingtown Review, The Means, Emergency Almanac, mark(s), Interdisciplinary Humanities, Metrotimes, Gender(f), Dispatch Detroit. In 2000 she founded the interdisciplinary theatre ensemble, The Milena Group.