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TOPICS: drama + comedy + postmodern + american age + self + future + death + past + present + time + space + love + family + generations + god * 2007

3 Sisters

Act I Act II | Act IV and Notes


Act III -- Fire

OLGA, MASHA and IRINA. Past two o'clock in the night. Behind the scenes a bell is ringing. It can be seen that no one in the house has gone to bed yet.

OLGA [taking clothes out of the closet]. Take this grey dress... and this one... and the blouse too... and that skirt... Oh, dear, what a dreadful thing! Two street are burnt to the ground, it seems... Take this... this... [throws clothes]. The Vershinins have had a fright... Their house was very nearly burnt. Let them stay here... we can't let them go...

[Through the open door can be seen a window red with fire; the fire truck is heard passing the house.] How awful it is! And I'm sick of it! Give them everything. We don't want anything, give it all to them... I'm tired, I can hardly stand on my feet... We mustn't let the Vershinins go home... The little girls can sleep in the drawing-room, and Vershinin down below at the baron's.... Damn it, the doctor is drunk and no one can be put in his room. And Vershinin's wife can be in the living-room too.

[Enter NATASHA.]

NATASHA. They're saying we must form a committee or something for the assistance. Well, that's a good idea. Indeed, we ought always to be ready to help, it's our duty. Bobik and baby Sophie are both asleep, sleeping as though nothing were happening. There are such a lot of people everywhere, wherever you go, the house is full. There is influenza in the town now; I'm so afraid the children may get it...

OLGA [not listening]. In this room you can't see the fire, it's quiet here.

NATASHA. Yes... my hair must be untidy [in front of the mirror]. They say I have grown fatter... but it's not true! Not a bit! Masha is asleep, she is tired out, poor dear. [suddenly] You spoil people! I like order in the house! [Strokes her cheek.] You are tired, poor darling. Our headmistress is tired! When baby Sophie is a big girl and goes to the high-school, I shall be afraid of you.

OLGA. I won't be headmistress.

NATASHA. You'll be elected, that's a settled thing.

OLGA. I'll refuse. I can't... It's too much for me... [drinks water]. You were so rude just now... Excuse me, I can't endure it... It makes me feel faint.

NATASHA [perturbed]. Forgive me, dear; forgive me... I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.

[MASHA gets up, takes her pillow, and goes out in a rage.]

OLGA. You must understand, my dear, it may be that we have been strangely brought up, but I can't endure it... Such an attitude oppresses me, it makes me ill... I feel simply unnerved by it...

NATASHA. Forgive me; forgive me... [kisses her].

OLGA. The very slightest rudeness, a tactless word, upsets me...

NATASHA. Either I don't understand, or you won't understand me.

[The alarm bell rings behind the scenes.]

OLGA. This night has made me ten years older.

NATASHA. We must come to an understanding, Olga. You are at the high-school, I'm at home; you're teaching while I look after the house, and I know what I'm talking about; I do know-what-I-am-talk-ing-a-bout... [stamps her foot] I won't have people annoy me! I won't have it! [Feeling that she has gone too far] Really, if you don't move downstairs, we'll always be quarrelling. It's awful.

[Enter KULYGIN, stops.]

KULYGIN. Where is Masha? It's time to go home. The fire is dying down, so they say. Only one part of the town has been burnt, and yet there was a wind; it seemed at first as though the whole town would be destroyed [sits down]. I'm exhausted. (to OLGA) My dear... I often think if it had not been for Masha I should have married you. You're so good... I'm tired out [listens].

OLGA. What is it?

KULYGIN. It is unfortunate the doctor should have a drinking bout just now; he is helplessly drunk. Most unfortunate [gets up]. Here he comes, I do believe... Do you hear? Yes, he's coming this way... [laughs]. What a man he is, really... I'll hide [goes to the wardrobe and stands in the corner]. Isn't he a ruffian!

OLGA. He hasn't drunk for two years and now he's gone and done it... [walks away with NATASHA to the back of the room].

[DOCTOR comes in; walking as though sober without staggering, he walks across the room, stops, looks round.]

DOCTOR [morosely]. The devil take them all... damn them all. They think I'm a doctor, that I can treat all sorts of complaints, and I really know nothing about it, I've forgotten all I did know, I remember nothing, absolutely nothing. [OLGA and NATASHA go out unnoticed by him.] The devil take them. Last Wednesday I treated a woman -- she died, and it's my fault that she died. Yes... I did know something twenty-five years ago, but now I remember nothing, nothing. Perhaps I'm not a man at all but only pretend to have arms and legs and head; perhaps I don't exist at all and only imagine that I walk around, eat and sleep [weeps]. Oh, if only I didn't exist! [Stops weeping, morosely] I don't care! I don't care a scrap! [a pause] Who the hell knows.... The day before yesterday there was a conversation at the club: they talked about Shakespeare, Voltaire.... I've read nothing, nothing at all, but I looked as though I'd read them. And the others did the same as I did. The vulgarity! The meanness! And that woman I killed on Wednesday came back to my mind... and it all came back to my mind and everything seemed nasty, disgusting and all twisted in my soul.... I went and got drunk...

[Enter IRINA, VERSHININ and BARON; BARON is wearing a new civilian suit.]

IRINA. Let's sit here. No one will come here.

VERSHININ. If it hadn't been for the soldiers, the whole town would've been burnt down. Splendid fellows! [Rubs his hands with pleasure.] They are first-rate men! Splendid fellows!

KULYGIN [going up to them]. What time is it?

BARON. It's past three. It's getting light already.

IRINA. They're all sitting in the dining-room. No one seems to think of going. And that Solyony of yours is sitting there too... [To DOCTOR] You had better go to bed, doctor.

DOCTOR. It's all right... Thank you! [Combs his beard.]

KULYGIN [laughs]. You've been hitting the bottle, doctor! [Slaps him on the shoulder.] Bravo! In vino veritas, the ancients used to say.

BARON. Everyone is asking me to get up a concert for the benefit of the families whose houses have been burnt down.

IRINA. Why, who is there?...

BARON. We could do it, if we wanted to. Masha plays the piano splendidly, to my thinking.

KULYGIN. Yes, she plays splendidly.

IRINA. She's forgotten. She hasn't played for three... or four years.

BARON. There is absolutely no one who understands music in this town, not one soul, but I do understand and I assure you that your wife plays magnificently, almost with genius.

KULYGIN. You are right, Baron. I'm very fond of her; Masha, I mean. She is good.

BARON. To be able to play so gloriously and to know that no one understands you!

KULYGIN [sighs]. Yes.... But would it be suitable for her to take part in a concert? [a pause] I know nothing about it, my friends. Perhaps it would be all right. There's no denying that our director is a fine man, indeed a very fine man, very intelligent, but he has such views... Of course it's not his business, still if you like I'll speak to him about it.

[DOCTOR takes up a china clock and examines it.]

VERSHININ. I got dirty all over at the fire. I'm a sight [a pause]. I heard a word dropped yesterday about our brigade being transferred.

BARON. I've heard something about it too. Well! The town will be a wilderness then.

IRINA. We'll go away too.

DOCTOR [drops the clock, which smashes]. To smithereens! [Pause; everyone is upset and confused]

KULYGIN [picking up the pieces]. To smash such a valuable thing -- oh, doctor, doctor! I'd give you minus zero for conduct!

IRINA. That was mother's clock.

DOCTOR. Perhaps.... Well, if it was hers, it was. Perhaps I didn't smash it, but it only seems as though I had. Perhaps it only seems to us that we exist, but really we aren't here at all. I don't know anything -- nobody knows anything. [By the door] What are you staring at? Natasha has got a little affair going with Protopopov, and you don't see it... You sit here and see nothing, while Natasha has a little affair on with Protopopov.[sings]. May I offer you this fig?... [Goes out.]

VERSHININ. Yes... [laughs]. How very strange it all is, really! When the fire began I ran home as fast as I could. I went up and saw our house was safe and sound and out of danger, but my little girls were standing in the doorway in their night-gowns; their mother was nowhere to be seen, people were bustling about, horses and dogs were running about, and my children's faces were full of alarm, horror, pleas for help, and I don't know what; it wrung my heart to see their faces. My God, I thought, what more have these children to go through in the long years to come! I took their hands and ran along with them, and could think of nothing else but what more they would have to go through in this world! [a pause] When I came to your house I found their mother here, screaming, angry.

[MASHA comes in with the pillow and sits down on the sofa.]

VERSHININ. And while my little girls were standing in the doorway in their nightgowns and the street was red with the fire, and there was a fearful noise, I thought that something like it used to happen years ago when the enemy would suddenly make a raid and begin plundering and burning... And yet, in reality, what a difference there is between what is now and has been in the past! And when a little more time has passed -- another two or three hundred years -- people will look at our present manner of life with horror and derision, and everything of today will seem awkward and heavy, and very strange and uncomfortable. Oh, what a wonderful life that will be -- what a wonderful life! [Laughs] Forgive me, here I am airing my theories again! Allow me to go on. I have such a desire to talk about the future. I'm in the mood [a pause]. It's as though everyone were asleep. And so, I say, what a wonderful life it will be! Can you only imagine? Here are only three of your sort in the town now, but in generations to come there will be more and more and more; and the time will come when everything will be changed and be as you would have it; they will live in your way, and later on you too will be out of date -- people will be born who will be better than you... [laughs]. I am in such a strange state of mind today. I have a fiendish longing for life. [sings]. Young and old are bound by love, and precious are its pangs... [laughs].

MASHA. Tram-tam-tam...


MASHA. Tra-ra-ra?

VERSHININ. Tra-ta-ta! [Laughs]

[Enter SOLYONY.]

IRINA. No, please go, Solyony. You can't stay here.

SOLYONY. How is it the baron can be here and I can't?

VERSHININ. We must be going, really. How's the fire?

SOLYONY. They say it's dying down. No, I really can't understand why the baron may be here and not me [takes out a bottle of scent and sprinkles himself].

VERSHININ. Tram-tam-tam!

MASHA. Tram-tam!

VERSHININ [laughs, to SOLYONY]. Let's have a drink.

SOLYONY. Very well, we'll make a note of it. I might explain my meaning further, but fear I may provoke the geese... [looking at BARON]. Chook, chook, chook! [Goes out with VERSHININ]

IRINA. How that horrid Solyony has made the room smell of tobacco! [Bewildered] The baron is asleep! Baron, Baron!

BARON [waking up]. I'm tired, though... The brick-yard. I'm not talking in my sleep. I really am going to the brick factory directly, to begin work... It's nearly settled. [To IRINA, tenderly] You're so pale and lovely and fascinating... It seems to me as though your paleness sheds a light through the dark air... You're melancholy; you're dissatisfied with life... Ah, come with me; let's go and work together!

MASHA. Baron, go away!

BARON [laughing]. Are you here? I didn't see you... [kisses IRINA'S hand]. Good-bye, I'm going... I look at you now, and I remember as though it were long ago how on your name-day you talked of the joy of work, and were so cheerful and confident. And what a happy life I was dreaming of then! What has become of it? [Kisses her hand.] There're tears in your eyes. Go to bed, it's getting light... it's nearly morning... If only I could give my life for you!

MASHA. Please, do go! Really, this is too much...

BARON. I'm going [goes out].

MASHA [lying down to Kulygin]. Are you asleep?


MASHA. You'd better go home.

KULYGIN. My darling Masha, my precious girl!

IRINA. She's tired out. Let her rest.

KULYGIN. I'll go at once... My dear, charming wife!... I love you, my only one!

MASHA [angrily]. Amo, amas, amat; amamus, amatis, amant.

KULYGIN [laughs]. Yes, really she's wonderful. You've been my wife for seven years, and it seems to me as though we were only married yesterday. Honor bright! Yes, really you are a wonderful woman! I'm content, I'm content, I'm content!

MASHA. I'm bored, I'm bored, I'm bored!.. [Gets up and speaks, sitting down] And there's something I can't get out of my head... It's simply revolting. It sticks in my head like a nail; I must speak of it. I mean about Andrey... He has mortgaged this house to the bank and his wife has grabbed all the money, and you know the house doesn't belong to him alone, but to us four! He ought to know that, if he's a decent man.

KULYGIN. Why do you want to bother about it, Masha? What's got into you? Andrey is in debt all round, so there it is.

MASHA. It's revolting, anyway [lies down].

KULYGIN. We're not poor. I work -- I go to the high-school, and then I give private lessons... I do my duty... There's no nonsense about me. Omnia mea mecum porto, as the saying is.

MASHA. I want nothing, but it's the injustice that revolts me [a pause]. Go home.

KULYGIN [kisses her]. You're tired, rest for half an hour, and I'll sit and wait for you... Sleep... [goes]. I'm content, I'm content, I'm content... [goes out].

IRINA. Yes, how petty our Andrey has grown, how dull and old he has become beside that woman! At one time he was working to get a professorship and yesterday he was boasting of having succeeded at last in becoming a member of the District Council. He's a member, and Protopopov is chairman... The whole town is laughing and talking of it and he's the only one who sees and knows nothing... And here everyone has been running to the fire while he sits still in his room and takes no notice. He does nothing but play his violin... [nervously]. Oh, it's awful, awful, awful! [Weeps] I can't bear it any more, I can't! I can't, I can't!

[OLGA comes in and begins tidying up her table.]

IRINA [sobs loudly]. Throw me out, throw me out, I can't bear it any more!

OLGA [alarmed]. What is it? What is it, darling?

IRINA [sobbing]. Where? Where has it all gone? Where is it? Oh, my God, my God! I've forgotten everything, everything... everything is in a tangle in my mind... I don't remember the Italian for window or ceiling... I'm forgetting everything; every day I forget something more and life is slipping away and will never come back, we'll never, never go to Moscow.... I see that we won't go...

OLGA. Darling, darling...

IRINA [restraining herself]. Oh, I'm miserable... I can't work, I'm not going to work. I've had enough of it, enough of it! I've been a telegraph clerk and now I have a job in the town council and I hate and despise every bit of the work they give me... I'm already twenty-three, I've been working for years, my brains are drying up, I'm getting thin and old and ugly and there's nothing, nothing, not the slightest satisfaction, and time is passing and you feel that you are moving away from a real, a beautiful life, moving farther and farther away and being drawn into the depths. I'm in despair and I don't know how it is I'm alive and haven't killed myself yet...

OLGA. Don't cry, my child, don't cry. It makes me miserable.

IRINA. I'm not crying, I'm not crying.... It's over... There, I'm not crying now. I won't... I won't.

OLGA. Darling, I'm speaking to you as a sister, as a friend, if you care for my advice, marry the baron!

[IRINA weeps quietly.]

OLGA. You know you respect him, you think highly of him.... It's true he isn't good-looking, but he is such a thoroughly nice man, so good.... A person doesn't marry for love, but to do her duty.... That's what I think, anyway, and I would marry without love. Whoever proposed to me I'd marry him, if only he were a good man.... I'd even marry an old man...

IRINA. I kept expecting we should move to Moscow and there I should meet my true love. I've been dreaming of him, loving him... But it seems that was all nonsense, nonsense...

OLGA [puts her arms round her sister]. My darling, lovely sister, I understand it all; when the baron left the army and came to us in a plain coat, I thought he looked so ugly that it positively made me cry... He asked me, "Why are you crying?" How could I tell him! But if God brought you together I should be happy. That's a different thing, you know, quite different. [Laughter]

[NATASHA with a candle in her hand walks across the stage from door on right to door on left without speaking.]

MASHA [sits up]. She walks about as though it were she who set fire to the town.

OLGA. Masha, you're silly. The very silliest of the family, that's you.

MASHA. I want to confess my sins, dear sisters. My soul is yearning. I'm going to confess to you and never again to anyone... I'll tell you this minute [softly]. It's my secret, but you must know everything.... I can't be silent... [a pause]. I'm in love, I'm in love... I love that man.... You have just seen him... Well, I may as well say it. I love Vershinin.

OLGA. Stop it. I'm not listening anyway.

MASHA. But what am I to do? [Clutches her head.] At first I thought him strange... then I was sorry for him... then I came to love him... to love him with his voice, his words, his misfortunes, his two little girls...

OLGA. I'm not listening. Whatever silly things you say I won't hear them.

MASHA. Oh, sister, you are silly. I love him -- so that's my fate. It means that that's my lot... And he loves me... It's all terrifying. Yes? Is it wrong? [Takes IRINA by the hand and draws her to herself] Oh, my darling... How are we going to live our lives, what will become of us?.. When you read a novel it all seems trite and obvious, but when you're in love yourself you see that no one knows anything and we all have to settle things for ourselves... My darlings, my sisters... I've confessed it to you, now I'll hold my tongue... I'll be like Gogol's madman... silence... silence...

[Enter ANDREY]

ANDREY. I've come to ask you for the key of the cupboard, I have lost mine. You've got one, it's a little key.

[OLGA gives him the key in silence.]

ANDREY. What a fire! Now it's begun to die down. [a pause]. Why don't you speak? [a pause] It's time to drop this foolishness and sulking all about... You're here, Masha, and you too, Irina -- very well, then, let us have things out thoroughly, once and for all. What have you got against me? What is it?

OLGA. Stop it, Andrey. Let's talk tomorrow [nervously].

ANDREY [greatly confused]. I ask you quite calmly, what have you against me?

[VERSHININ'S voice: "Tram-tam-tam!"]

MASHA [standing up, loudly]. Tra-ta-ta! [To OLGA] Good night, Olga, God bless you... [Goes behind the screen and kisses IRINA.] Sleep well... Good night, Andrey. You'd better leave them now, they're tired out... you can go into things tomorrow [goes out].

OLGA. Yes, really, brother, let's put it off till tomorrow... [goes behind her screen]. It's bed time...

ANDREY. I'll say what I have to say and then go. First, you have something against Natasha, my wife, and I've noticed that from the very day of my marriage. Natasha is a splendid woman, conscientious, straightforward and honourable -- that's my opinion! I love and respect my wife, do you understand? I respect her, and I insist on other people respecting her too. I repeat, she is a conscientious, honourable woman, and all your disagreements are simply caprice... [a pause]. Secondly, you seem to be cross with me for not being a professor, not working at something scholarly. But I'm in the service of the city, I'm a member of the District Council, and I consider this service just as sacred and elevated as the service of learning. I'm a member of the District Council and I'm proud of it, if you care to know... [a pause]. Thirdly... there's something else I have to say.... I've mortgaged the house without asking your permission... For that I am to blame, yes, and I ask your pardon for it. I was driven to it by my debts... thirty-five thousand... I'm not gambling now -- I gave up cards long ago; but the chief thing I can say in self-defence is that you girls... while I don't get... my wages, so to speak... [a pause].

KULYGIN [at the door]. Isn't Masha here? [Perturbed] Where is she? It's strange... [goes out].

ANDREY. They won't listen. Natasha is an excellent, conscientious woman [paces up and down the stage in silence, then stops]. When I married her, I thought we should be happy ... happy, all of us.... But, my God! [Weeps] Dear sisters, darling sisters, you must not believe what I say, you mustn't believe it... [goes out].

KULYGIN [at the door, uneasily]. Where is Masha? Isn't Masha here? How strange! [Goes out.]

[The firebell rings in the street. The stage is empty.]

IRINA [behind the screen]. Who is that knocking?

OLGA. It's the doctor. He's drunk.

IRINA. What a troubled night! [a pause] Olga! [Peeps out from behind the screen.] Have you heard? The brigade is going to be taken away; they are being transferred to some place very far off.

OLGA. That's only a rumor.

IRINA. Then we shall be alone...

OLGA. Well?

IRINA. My dear, my darling, I respect the baron, I think highly of him, he's a fine man -- I'll marry him, I consent, only let's go to Moscow! I implore you, please let's go! There's nothing in the world better than Moscow! Let's go, please! Let's go!

End of Act III

Act IV * film-north
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