Three Sistersby Anton Chekhov
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Anton Chekhov is a unique force in modern drama, his works cherished for their brilliant wit and insight into the human condition. In this stunning new translation of one of Chekhov’s most popular and beloved plays, Laurence Senelick presents a fresh perspective on the master playwright and his groundbreaking dramas. He brings this timeless trial of art and love to life as memorable characters have clashing desires and lose balance in the shifting eruptions of society and a modernizing Russia. Supplementing the play is an account of Chekhov’s life; a note on the translation; an introduction to the work; and variant lines, often removed due to government censorship, which illuminate the context in which they were written. This edition is the perfect guide to enriching our understanding of this great dramatist or to staging a production.
“Zestier and more colloquial than most translations Letts' main achievement here is to make Chekhov more emotional, accessible and active.” Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune
“A no-nonsense script by Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning Tracy Letts that blends compassion with tough love. Repeatedly, Letts delivers heartbreak on cue I’ve seen over a dozen Three Sisters, but never has the final scene of the sisters’ solidarity after all the blows we see them suffer registered so hard.” Lawrence Bommer, Chicago Theater Beat
"Highly recommended... Fascinating revival... has a speed and light, a sharpness and edgy heart that make it newly compelling." Chicago Sun-Times
“Refreshingly blunt, provocative.” Sam Hurwitt, The Reporter
Read an Excerpt
The Three Sisters
By ANTON CHEKHOV, Philip Smith
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
In PROZOROV'S house. A sitting-room with pillars; behind is seen a large dining-room. It is midday, the sun is shining brightly outside. In the dining-room the table is being laid for lunch.
OLGA, in the regulation blue dress of a teacher at a girl's high school, is walking about correcting exercise books; MASHA, in a black dress, with a hat on her knees, sits and reads a book; IRINA, in white, stands about, with a thoughtful expression.
OLGA. A year since father died last May the fifth, on your name-day, Irina. It was very cold then, and snowing. I thought I would never live, and you were in a dead faint. And now a year has gone by and it does not affect us, and you are wearing a white dress and look happy. [Clock strikes twelve.] And the clock struck just the same way then. [Pause.] I remember that there was music at the funeral, and they fired a volley in the cemetery. A general in command but few people present. Rain and snow.
IRINA. Why recall it?
BARON TUZENBAKH, CHEBUTYKIN and SOLYONI appear by the table in the dining-room, behind the pillars.
OLGA. It's so warm to-day that we can keep the windows open, though the birches are not yet in flower. Father was put in command of a brigade, and he rode out of Moscow with us eleven years ago. I remember perfectly that it was early in May and all Moscow was blooming. It was warm too, everything in sunshine. Eleven years, and I remember everything as if we rode out only yesterday. Oh God! When I awoke this morning and saw all the light and the spring, I was homesick.
CHEBUTYKIN. Will you take a bet on it?
TUZENBAKH. Don't be foolish.
MASHA, lost in a reverie over her book, whistles softly.
OLGA. Don't whistle, Masha. How can you! [Pause.] I'm always having headaches from having to go to the High School every day and then teach till evening. Strange thoughts come to me, as if I were aged. And really, during these four years I have been feeling as if every day had been drained from me. And only one desire grows and gains in strength....
IRINA. To go away to Moscow. To sell the house, leave all and go to Moscow....
OLGA. Yes! To Moscow, and as soon as possible.
CHEBUTYKIN and TUZENBAKH laugh.
IRINA. I expect Andrey will become a professor, but still, he won't want to live here. Only poor Masha must go on living here.
OLGA. Masha can come to Moscow every summer.
MASHA is whistling gently.
IRINA. Everything will be arranged, please God. [Looks out of window.] It's nice out to-day. I don't know why I'm so happy: I remembered this morning that it was my name-day, and I suddenly felt glad and remembered my childhood, when mother was still with us. What beautiful thoughts I had, what thoughts!
OLGA. You're all radiance to-day, I've never seen you look so lovely. And Masha is pretty, too. Andrey wouldn't be bad-looking, if he wasn't so stout; it does spoil his appearance. But I've grown old and very thin, I suppose it's because I get angry with the girls at school. To-day I'm free. I'm at home. I haven't got a headache, and I feel younger than I was yesterday. I'm only twenty-eight.... All's well, God is everywhere, but it seems to me that if only I were married and could stay at home all day, it would be even better. [Pause.] I should love my husband.
TUZENBAKH. [To SOLYONI.] I'm tired of listening to the rot you talk. [Entering the sitting-room.] I forgot to say that Vershinin, our new lieutenant-colonel of artillery, is coming to see us to-day. [Sits down to the piano.]
OLGA. That's good. I'm glad.
IRINA. Is he old?
TUZENBAKH. Oh, no. Forty or forty-five, at the very outside. [Plays softly.] He seems rather a good sort. He's certainly no fool, only he likes to hear himself speak.
IRINA. Is he interesting?
TUZENBAKH. Oh, he's all right, but there's his wife, his mother-in-law, and two daughters. This is his second wife. He pays calls and tells everybody that he's got a wife and two daughters. He'll tell you so here. The wife isn't all there, she does her hair like a flapper and gushes extremely. She talks philosophy and tries to commit suicide every now and again, apparently in order to annoy her husband. I should have left her long ago, but he bears up patiently, and just grumbles.
SOLYONI. [Enters with CHEBUTYKIN from the dining-room. With one hand I can only lift fifty-four pounds, but with both hands I can lift 180, or even 200 pounds. From this I conclude that two men are not twice as strong as one, but three times, perhaps even more....
CHEBUTYKIN. [Reads a newspaper as he walks.] If your hair is coming out ... take an ounce of naphthaline and half a bottle of spirit ... dissolve and use daily.... [Makes a note in his pocket diary.] When found make a note of! Not that I want it though.... [Crosses it out. It doesn't matter.
IRINA. Ivan Romanovich, dear Ivan Romanovich!
CHEBUTYKIN. What does my own little girl want?
IRINA. Ivan Romanovich, dear Ivan Romanovich! I feel as if I were sailing under the broad blue sky with great white birds around me. Why is that? Why?
CHEBUTYKIN. [Kisses her hands, tenderly.] My white bird....
IRINA. When I woke up to-day and got up and dressed myself, I suddenly began to feel as if everything in this life was open to me, and that I knew how I must live. Dear Ivan Romanovich, I know everything. A man must work, toil in the sweat of his brow, whoever he may be, for that is the meaning and object of his life, his happiness, his enthusiasm. How fine it is to be a workman who gets up at daybreak and breaks stones in the street, or a shepherd, or a schoolmaster, who teaches children, or an engine-driver on the railway.... My God, let alone a man, it's better to be an ox, or just a horse, so long as it can work, than a young woman who wakes up at twelve o'clock, has her coffee in bed, and then spends two hours dressing.... Oh it's awful! Sometimes when it's hot, your thirst can be just as tiresome as my need for work. And if I don't get up early in future and work, Ivan Romanovich, then you may refuse me your friendship.
CHEBUTYKIN. [Tenderly.] I'll refuse, I'll refuse....
OLGA. Father used to make us get up at seven. Now Irina wakes at seven and lies and meditates about something till nine at least. And she looks so serious! [Laughs.]
IRINA. You're so used to seeing me as a little girl that it seems queer to you when my face is serious. I'm twenty!
TUZENBAKH. How well I can understand that craving for work, oh God! I've never worked once in my life. I was born in Petersburg, a chilly, lazy place, in a family which never knew what work or worry meant. I remember that when I used to come home from my regiment, a footman used to have to pull off my boots while I fidgeted and my mother looked on in adoration and wondered why other people didn't see me in the same light. They shielded me from work; but only just in time! A new age is dawning, the people are marching on us all, a powerful, health-giving storm is gathering, it is drawing near, soon it will be upon us and it will drive away laziness, indifference, the prejudice against labour, and rotten dullness from our society. I shall work, and in twenty-five or thirty years, every man will have to work. Every one!
CHEBUTYKIN. I shan't work.
TUZENBAKH. You don't matter.
SOLYONI. In twenty-five years' time, we shall all be dead, thank the Lord. In two or three years' time apoplexy will carry you off, or else I'll blow your brains out, my pet.
Takes a scent-bottle out of his pocket and sprinkles his chest and hands.
CHEBUTYKIN. [Laughs.] It's quite true, I never have worked. After I came down from the university I never stirred a finger or opened a book, I just read the papers.... [Takes another newspaper out of his pocket.] Here we are.... I've learnt from the papers that there used to be one, Dobrolyubov, for instance, but what he wrote—I don't know.... God only knows.... [Somebody is heard tapping on the floor from below.] There ... They're calling me downstairs, somebody's come to see me. I'll be back in a minute ... won't be long.... [Exit hurriedly, scratching his beard.]
IRINA. He's up to something.
TUZENBAKH. Yes, he looked so pleased as he went out that I'm pretty certain he'll bring you a present in a moment.
IRINA. How unpleasant!
OLGA. Yes, it's awful. He's always doing silly things.
"There stands a green oak by the sea.
And a chain of bright gold is around it ...
And a chain of bright gold is around it...."
Gets up and sings softly.
OLGA. You're not very bright to-day, Masha. [MASHA sings, putting on her hat.] Where are you off to?
IRINA. That's odd....
TUZENBAKH. On a name-day, too!
MASHA. It doesn't matter. I'll come in the evening. Good-bye, dear. [Kisses IRINA.] Many happy returns, though I've said it before. In the old days when father was alive, every time we had a name-day, thirty or forty officers used to come, and there was lots of noise and fun, and today there's only a man and a half, and it's quiet as a desert ... I'm off ... I've got the hump to-day, and am not at all cheerful, so don't you mind me. [Laughs through her tears.] We'll have a talk later on, but good-bye for the present, my dear; I'll go somewhere.
IRINA. [Displeased.] You are queer....
OLGA. [Crying.] I understand you, Masha.
SOLYONI. When a man talks philosophy, well, it is philosophy or at any rate sophistry; but when a woman, or two women, talk philosophy—it's all my eye.
MASHA. What do you mean by that, you very awful man?
SOLYONI. Oh, nothing. You came down on me before I could say ... help! [Pause.]
MASHA. [Angrily, to OLGA.] Don't cry!
Enter ANFISA and FERAPONT with a cake.
ANFISA. This way, my dear. Come in, your feet are clean. [To IRINA.]
From the District Council, from Mikhail Ivanich Protopopov ... a cake.
IRINA. Thank you. Please thank him. [Takes the cake.]
IRINA. [Louder.] Please thank him.
OLGA. Give him a pie, nurse. Ferapont, go, she'll give you a pie.
ANFISA. Come on, gran'fer, Ferapont Spiridonich. Come on. [Exeunt.]
MASHA. I don't like this Mikhail Potapich or Ivanich, Protopopov. We oughtn't to invite him here.
IRINA. I never asked him.
MASHA. That's all right.
Enter CHEBUTYKIN followed by a soldier with a silver samovar; there is a rumble of dissatisfied surprise.
OLGA. [Covers her face with her hands.] A samovar! That's awful! [Exit into the dining-room, to the table.]
IRINA. My dear Ivan Romanovich, what are you doing!
TUZENBAKH. [Laughs.] I told you so!
MASHA. Ivan Romanovich, you are simply shameless!
CHEBUTYKIN. My dear good girl, you are the only thing, and the dearest thing, I have in the world. I'll soon be sixty. I'm an old man, a lonely worthless old man. The only good thing in me is my love for you, and if it hadn't been for that, I would have been dead long ago.... [To IRINA.] My dear little girl, I've known you since the day of your birth, I've carried you in my arms ... I loved your dead mother....
MASHA. But your presents are so expensive!
CHEBUTYKIN. [Angrily, through his tears.] Expensive presents.... You really are! ... [To the orderly.] Take the samovar in there.... [Teasing.] Expensive presents!
The orderly goes into the dining-room with the samovar.
ANFISA. [Enters and crosses stage.] My dear, there's a strange Colonel come! He's taken off his coat already. Children, he's coming here. Irina darling, you'll be a nice and polite little girl, won't you.... Should have lunched a long time ago.... Oh, Lord.... [Exit.]
TUZENBAKH. It must be Vershinin. [Enter VERSHININ.] Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin!
VERSHININ. [To MASHA and IRINA.] I have the honour to introduce myself, my name is Vershinin. I am very glad indeed to be able to come at last. How you've grown! Oh! Oh!
IRINA. Please sit down. We're very glad you've come.
VERSHININ. [Gaily.] I am glad, very glad! But there are three sisters, surely. I remember—three little girls. I forget your faces, but your father, Colonel Prozorov, used to have three little girls. I remember that perfectly, I saw them with my own eyes. How time does fly! Oh, dear, how it flies!
TUZENBAKH. Alexander Ignatyevich comes from Moscow.
IRINA. From Moscow? Are you from Moscow?
VERSHININ. Yes, that's so. Your father used to be in charge of a battery there, and I was an officer in the same brigade. [To MASHA.] I seem to remember your face a little.
MASHA. I don't remember you.
IRINA. Olga! Olga! [Shouts into the dining-room.] Olga! Come along! [OLGA enters from the dining-room.] Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin comes from Moscow, as it happens.
VERSHININ. I take it that you are Olga Sergeyevna, the eldest, and that you are Marya ... and you are Irina, the youngest....
OLGA. So you come from Moscow?
VERSHININ. Yes. I went to school in Moscow and began my service there; I was there for a long time until at last I got my battery and moved over here, as you see. I don't really remember you, I only remember that there used to be three sisters. I remember your father well; I have only to shut my eyes to see him as he was. I used to come to your house in Moscow....
OLGA. I used to think I remembered everybody, but ...
VERSHININ. My name is Alexander Ignatyevich.
IRINA. Alexander Ignatyevich, you've come from Moscow. That is really a surprise!
OLGA. We are going to live there, you see.
IRINA. We think we may be there this autumn. It's our native town, we were born there. In Old Basmanni Road.... [They both laugh for joy.]
MASHA. We've unexpectedly met a fellow countryman. [Briskly.] I remember: Do you remember, Olga, they used to speak at home of a "lovelorn Major." You were only a Lieutenant then, and in love with somebody, but for some reason they always called you a Major for fun.
VERSHININ. [Laughs.] That's it ... the lovelorn Major, that's got it!
MASHA. You only wore moustaches then. You have grown older! [Through her tears.] You have grown older!
VERSHININ. Yes, when they used to call me the lovelorn Major, I was young and in love. I've grown out of both now.
OLGA. But you haven't a single white hair yet. You're older, but you're not yet old.
VERSHININ. I'm forty-two, anyway. Have you been away from Moscow long?
IRINA. Eleven years. What are you crying for, Masha, you little fool.... [Crying.] And I'm crying too.
MASHA. It's all right. And where did you live?
VERSHININ. Old Basmanni Road.
OLGA. Same as we.
VERSHININ. Once I used to live in German Street. That was when the Red Barracks were my headquarters. There's an ugly bridge in between, where the water rushes underneath. One gets melancholy when one is alone there. [Pause.] Here the river is so wide and fine! It's a splendid river!
OLGA. Yes, but it's so cold. It's very cold here, and the midges....
VERSHININ. What are you saying! Here you've got such a fine healthy Russian climate. You've a forest, a river ... and birches. Dear, modest birches, I like them more than any other tree. It's good to live here. Only it's odd that the railway station should be thirteen miles away ... Nobody knows why.
SOLYONI. I know why. [All look at him.] Because if it was near it wouldn't be far off, and if it's far off, it can't be near. [An awkward pause.]
TUZENBAKH. Funny man.
OLGA. Now I know who you are. I remember.
VERSHININ. I used to know your mother.
CHEBUTYKIN. She was a good woman, rest her soul.
IRINA. Mother is buried in Moscow.
OLGA. At the Novo-Devichi Cemetery.
MASHA. Do you know, I'm beginning to forget her face. We'll be forgotten in just the same way.
Excerpted from The Three Sisters by ANTON CHEKHOV, Philip Smith. Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"Right up there with the best ever Three Sisters (by Laurence Olivier, Jonathan Miller, Trevor Nunn, Field Day and the Katona Josef in Budapest) but a sensational breakthrough and a poetic revelation at the same time, and in its own gloriously idiosyncratic manner." Michael Coveney, What’s On Stage (5 stars)
"Andrews has come up with a bracingly original vision: he turns the play inside out, bashes it around, and drops in anachronisms, yet his approach yields revelatory results. In the end, against the odds, this is a moving and absorbing Three Sisters" Evening Standard
"This version does not set out to endear itself to traditionalists has a jagged energy and a powerful sense of conviction" The Independent
"Energising, modern grabs some of the most thorny Chekhov questions about human existence with a firm unsentimental grip" Huffington Post
"Profoundly moving this is Chekhov refreshed and reimagined." Guardian
"One of the most exciting Chekhovs in years often hilarious yet, crucially, full of moments of stillness and pain" Metro
"The textbook opposite of a cosy West End revival gives a chill distillation of a comfortless vision present in the original" The Telegraph
"Traditionalists may fulminate, but I was blown away." Daily Mail
"A commendable job of reinvigorating the play, making it readily accessible by injecting the dialogue with suitably modern concepts." London Theatre
Meet the Author
Anton Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860 in Taganrog, Russia. He graduated from the University of Moscow in 1884. Chekhov died of tuberculosis in Germany on July 14, 1904, shortly after his marriage to actress Olga Knipper, and was buried in Moscow.
Laurence Senelick is the Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University and author of more than a dozen books, including the award-winning The Chekhov Theatre and The Changing Room: Sex, Drag, and the Theatre. He is director of his own translations of Gogol’s The Inspector General (1998) and Euripides’ The Bakkhai (2001).
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