A Dramatic Sketch in One Act
Vasily Vasilich Svetlovidov, an actor, about 68 years old
Nikita Ivanich, the prompter, an old man
The action takes place on the stage of a theater in the provinces, late at night, after the show.
The empty stage of a second-rate provincial theater. Right, several crude unpainted doors leading to the dressing rooms; left and rear, piles of backstage junk. Center stage, an overturned stool. It's night. The stage is dark.
Enter from a dressing room Svetlovidov, costumed as Calchas from Offenbach's La Belle Helene, with a candle in his hand.
svetlovidov: Well, if that isn't . . . (A loud laugh) What a joke! I fell asleep in the dressing room! The performance is over, everybody's gone home, and I slept through it all like a baby! Silly old fart. I must be getting old. Had a few too many, and I just sat there and went to sleep. Very smart. Brilliant performance. (Shouts) Yegorka! Yegorka! Where are you, goddamn it? Petrushka! They must've gone home. . . . God damn 'em. Yegorka! (Picks up the stool, sits down on it, and sets the candle on the floor) There's nobody here. Just an echo. I gave each of them a big fat tip today, and now when I need them they're gone. Bastards probably locked up the theater, too. (Shakes his head) Ohh, God! I'm still drunk. I drank too much at the benefit today, all that beer and wine. Jesus. I smell like a brewery. My mouth feels like it's got twenty tongues in it. . . . Ohh! I feel awful.
. . . really stupid. I've gotten to be an old drunk! I got shit-faced at the benefit, and I don't even know whose benefit it was. I feel like someone kicked me in the kidneys, my back is killing me, I've got the shakes . . . cold all over, just like the grave. You don't give a damn about your health, do you? Asshole. You're too old for this anymore.
You're old . . . you can't pretend anymore. No getting away from it this time. Your life is over. Sixty-eight years down the drain, just like that. And it won't come back. The bottle's almost empty, just a little bit left in the bottom. Dregs, that's what it is. That's just the way it is, Vaska, my boy, that's just the way it is. Ready or not, it's time for your final role. The death scene. The undiscovered bourne. (Stares straight ahead) I've been an actor for forty-five years, and this is the first time I've ever been onstage in the middle of the night. Yes. The first time. Curious. It's so dark out there. . . . (Crosses down to the edge of the stage) Can't see a thing. Well, the prompter's box, a little, and the stage boxes, and the conductor's podium . . . All the rest is darkness. A bottomless black hole, just like the grave, and death out there, waiting . . . Brr! It's cold! There's a wind coming from somewhere. . . . You could scare up a ghost out of this darkness. God, I'm scaring myself. My skin's starting to crawl. . . . (Shouts) Yegorka! Petrushka! Where the fucking goddamn hell are you? (Beat) I've got to stop using language like that, I've got to stop drinking, I'm an old man, I'm going to die. . . . Most people get to be sixty-eight, they start going to church again, they start getting ready . . . ready to die. And you--look at you. God! Swearing, getting drunk . . . Look at this stupid costume--how could I want people to see me like this? I better go change. . . . I'm scared. . . . If I stay here the rest of the night, I'll die. (Starts to exit to the dressing room)
(Enter Nikita Ivanich from the dressing room door farthest upstage. He wears a long white dressing gown. Svetlovidov sees him, shrieks with horror, and staggers backward.)
Who's that? Who're you? What do you want? (Stamps his feet) Who is that?
nikita ivanich: It's just me.
svetlovidov: Who're you?
nikita ivanich: (Moving slowly toward him) Me. Nikita Ivanich. The prompter. Vassily Vasilich, it's me!
svetlovidov: (Falls onto the stool, shaking and breathing heavily) Oh, my God . . . Who? Is that you? Is that you, Nikita? Wha . . . what are you doing here?
nikita ivanich: I've been sleeping nights in one of the dressing rooms. Only, please, don't say anything to the manager. . . . I haven't got any other place to go.
svetlovidov: It's just you, Nikita. Oh, my God, my God. I thought . . . (Beat) They had sixteen curtain calls tonight, and bouquets of flowers, and who knows what all, but nobody took the trouble to wake up an old man and help him home. I'm an old man, Nikita. I'm sixty-eight . . . and I'm sick. I don't have any strength left. (Grabs Nikita's hand and starts to cry) Don't leave me, Nikita! I'm old, I'm sick, I'm going to die. . . . I'm scared! I'm so scared!
nikita ivanich: (Gently, respectfully) Vasily Vasilich, it's time for you to go home.
svetlovidov: No, no, I can't! I haven't got a home! I can't! I can't!
nikita ivanich: Oh, dear. Did you forget where you live?
svetlovidov: I won't go back there--I can't! I'll be all alone, Nikita. I haven't got anybody--no wife, no children, no family. I'm all alone; I'm like the wind in an empty field. . . . I'm going to die, and no one will remember me. . . . It's awful to be alone. No one to hug you, keep you warm, put you to bed when you're drunk. . . . Who do I belong to? Does anybody need me? Does anybody love me? Nobody loves me, Nikita!
Excerpted from The Plays of Anton Chekhov by Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich Copyright © 2004 by Anton Chekhov. Excerpted by permission.
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