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Act 1

A Tragicomedy in Two Acts 

translated by Nathan Wright


Luara—an old woman, 100 years old a hundred years ago
Nura, Luara’s sister—an old woman, 100 years old a hundred years ago
Vika, a student—Their granddaughter 
Rurik—Luara’s son, Vika’s father and an artist, simply a genius
Brusha—with a hoarse voice and without any visible inner complexes

The action takes place in Moscow. Present Day.


Scene One

The old women’s apartment—everything is in perfect order. There are two beds, a dresser, an old piano, a table, and on the piano a portrait of Leo Tolstoy. There are bookshelves on which stand the complete works of Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy and near the piano is a sporty rug. Morning. The old women are in bed.

Luara – Why are you rustling around over there—what time is it?
Nura – There’s something I don’t understand.
Luara – If you don’t understand, why are you rustling around then?
Nura – Sorry I thought you were asleep.
Luara – I was asleep until all that rustling started.

Nura gets up and pulls on her robe.

Luara – Where are you going?
Nura – Vika needs to be fed—I’m on duty today.
Luara – It’s time to put an end to this. I told her yesterday that there’s rice pudding in the refrigerator, there are sausages and eggs and cottage cheese.
Nura – And what if she wants the corn?
Luara – If she wants the corn, I think she can manage and figure out how to open the can on her own. 
Nura – But why today exactly?
Luara – We have to start sometime. What’s wrong with you? You’ve completely lost it over this corn. Of course she’ll want the corn—maybe you can even whip her up some ambrosia?
Nura – What ambrosia?
Luara – This is you not wanting to admit that you’re lagging a little behind. 
Nura – What are you talking about?
Luara – I’m talking about your brain.
Nura – It’s ten o’clock. We’ve overslept.
Luara – I haven’t overslept at all. I have a hair appointment at two thirty. 

Nura runs from the room and knocks on Vika’s door.

Nura – Vika honey! Get up quick! We’ve overslept—its ten o’clock.
Vika – What’s going on?
Nura – Get up, do you hear me? Do you want eggs, sausage, cottage cheese or the rice pudding?
Vika – Which rice pudding?
Nura – It’s very good, I made it yesterday.
Vika – With raisins?
Nura – Yes with raisins—very tasty.
Vika – I don’t want it.
Nura – There’s the corn in the little can that you like.
Vika – Okay.
Nura – Come on then get up. Quick.

Nura runs into the room.

Nura – Just like I said—she wants the corn.
Luara – Aren’t you just the Oracle of Delphi? 
Nura – I suppose you and I are having the rice pudding then, right?
Luara – I’m not getting up yet.
Nura – What are you going to do then?
Luara – I’m going to dream about what I’m going to be when I grow up.
Nura – I don’t understand something, did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?
Luara –You won’t take the vitamins, or the supplements—nothing, well, here we see the results. Right in front of your face.
Nura – What are you talking about now?
Luara – Which side of the bed if I haven’t even gotten out of the bed yet?

Vika drifts into the room.

Vika – Well where is this corn?
Nura – I’m getting it now. I’m getting it now.
Luara – And what about good morning?
Vika – (contorting her face) Good Morning!
Luara—Good Morning! Vika, the can of corn is located in the refrigerator on the shelf with the vegetables and fruit, you need to pick it up with your hand. Are you paying attention? Next Step: From the drawer with the forks and knives take out the can opener, the can needs to be opened very carefully as to not stain the tablecloth! Place the contents in a bowl. Third Act—cover the bowl with plastic wrap, which you can find in the little cupboard next to the stove, place the bowl in the microwave and turn it on for one minute. 
Vika – What is this? Genocide?
Nura – Here I’ll help you.
Luara – Don’t you even dare. It seems to me that an 18-year-old girl—already attending the Institute, by the way—is able to complete these steps without the help of a helpless decrepit grandmother. (to Vika) Go! And shut the door, I need to get dressed.

Vika slams the door.

Nura – Luara, you’re going to far. Maybe, of course, I don’t understand, but everything right away like this...
Luara – If you don’t understand, then don’t speak. If not right way like this then never. She can polish her nails and do her make-up for three hours, but she’s too weak to open a can? She needs a can-opener, not a servant.

Luara gets up and puts on a gym suit.

Nura – I always fed Rurik breakfast...
Luara – You see, that’s what I am talking about, your brain has died. What does Rurik have to do with anything? Where’s the baby? Where’s the bath water? Where’s my hula-hoop by the way?
Nura – I didn’t take it.
Luara – I don’t doubt that, I mean—have you seen it?
Nura – It was lying here yesterday.
Luara – And today it got up and ran away?
Nura – I’ll go ask Vika.
Luara – Let her do it herself, don’t help.

Nura nods and goes out.
Luara turns on a stereo and puts in a disk. Straus’s "Blue Danube" begins to play. Luara begins to do a series of graceful toe-touches to the music. 
Nura enters the kitchen.
Vika is sitting at the table drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.

Nura – Vika, honey, what are you doing?
Vika – What now?
Nura – You’ve started smoking on an empty stomach?
Vika – Yeah. And?
Nura – You need to stop that garbage. I’ll heat that corn up for you.
Vika – I’m already late.

She finishes her coffee and puts out her cigarette.

Nura – Oh my, what is all this—I don’t understand something.
Vika – Don’t worry about, it’s not for everyone.
Nura – How late will you be today?
Vika – Whatta you care? What is it you wanna know?
Nura – You’ll be hungry all day—and smoking.
Vika – Get over it. You’re making me sick.
Nura – I’ll make you a quick sandwich. You want one?
Vika – No no no no no no--I don’t want a sandwich.
Nura – Vika honey, have you seen Luara’s hula-hoop?
Vika – Always the same damn broken record.
Nura – I don’t understand something.
Vika – Shut up about that hula-hoop!
Nura – What’s that?
Vika – I cut it up into pieces.
Nura – What for?
Vika – I wanted to create an art  installation.
Nura – Create what where?
Vika – What are you a detective? A prospector? What’s the difference? I wanted to—God—How can I explain it to you, I wanted to and...
Nura – And?
Vika – It was shit.
Nura – How could you do that without permission?
Vika –- Go then! Run and knock on her door—"Luara! I think its time to get out the cross!"
Nura – What’s the cross for?
Vika – To crucify me.

Luara appears.

Luara – Well, what’s all this?
Vika – Nice! The inspector’s come to visit.
Luara – Have you seen my hula-hoop?
Vika – I ate it with your damn corn!

Vika stands up and leaves.

Luara – Well, looks like everything’s order. Did the baby figure it out without grandma?

Nura exhales.

Luara – What? Are you at a funeral?
Nura – She didn’t eat anything. Just started smoking on an empty stomach.
Luara – She’s only hurting herself.
Nura – Goes to bed late, sits in front of the computer, she’s smoking—I even she’s drinking instead of eating.
Luara – Well she’s done with the computer now.
Nura – What do you mean?
Luara – I signed up for a course and every evening I’ll be sitting in front of the computer instead.
Nura – What kind of course?
Luara – A financial investment course. I’m going to be a stockbroker. 
Nura – I don’t understand something.
Luara – What’s to understand? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life rotting in poverty. Do you what you want, but I’m tired of this tune.
Nura – Rotting in poverty? Why? We’re renting out my apartment, we have our pensions.
Luara – Your apartment. If it’s better for you, if you want—then go to your own apartment and suffer away on your pension. It’s all the same to you, nothing interests you, you just sit there like an old hen—cluck, cluck, cluck.
Nura – We’re both old hens, aren’t we?
Luara – Speak for yourself! What all this "we"? You got too used to that Soviet thinking—we, we, and we...
Nura – Are we going to have our coffee or are we going to do everything in your new style—everyman for himself?
Luara – Don’t take it so literally. Of course we’re having our coffee.
Nura – When did you get this idea in your head?
Luara – I was talking with the new instructor at the fitness center yesterday—by the way, I think he has an eye on me. "There now, Luara Vikentevna, you’re pretty good at those splits!" He suggested I take the course. Looks very promising.
Nura – How old is he?
Luara – What does that have to do with anything?
Nura – You said he has his eyes on you?
Luara – His eyes are blue, his body is young, and his spirit is energetic—
Nura – And?
Luara – We’re taking this course together.
Nura – I can’t manage on my own.
Luara – Manage what?
Nura – Vika. She’s in college now.
Luara – Exactly. You’ve said it yourself! It’s time to stop baby-sitting.
Nura – But how?
Luara – Live for yourself. Learn some new things, read some new books.
Nura – I’ve always done that!
Luara – Always? What are you reading now?
Nura – Well, thank God, we have enough books.
Luara – Go to the bookstore and have a look at some of the books—anything except your Tolstoy—New books. Books that have been published recently. 
Nura – It’s a habit.
Luara – Drop it.
Nura – What about my memoirs?
Luara – Don’t make me laugh. Who needs that now? Who’s interested in all those has-beens and nobodies?
Nura – Well, I didn’t realize things between us had changed so much.
Luara – Listen, go and sit out front on the street with the other grandmas. There, nothing’s changed.  But don’t forget to put your scarf on your head! I’m just afraid that the other grandmas will be younger than you and won’t understand you when you start talking to them about "Anna Karenina". They’ll start talking to you about the State Hospital and start spinning their fingers at their heads. That’s enough, I’m going to get ready.
Nura – You said the hairdresser was at 2:30.
Luara – I want to go to the store and look for some new slacks.
Nura – Are you coming back for dinner?
Luara – We’ll see.

She exits. 

Nura – We’ll see? Well, there you go. Oh my. It seems like everyone sees everything now.  Seems like everything’s in its place and you can just move on. Maybe it’s really time to go. Suppose everything has its own end. Lessons in school come to an end...and she’s really not a child anymore. Oh my…for the children—it’s not certain that the future will be any better, and—that’s not hard for me to understand at all.

The door shuts.

Nura—And the door shuts. No "good-bye", no "have a good day", well, really, what kind of good day is there for a fool?

She begins to wash the coffee mugs.
The doorbell rings.

Nura – She’s forgotten something—and her keys. I’m coming, I’m coming, and she tries to tell me that I’m too old!

She opens the door.

Nura – Well, Rurik! Did you see your mom out there?
Rurik – Nope. I didn’t see anyone. I was just passing by and I just had this idea appear...
Nura – Come in, you want something to eat?

Rurik comes into the kitchen wearing a raincoat.

Nura – Come on, let’s take off this coat. (She tries to remove his raincoat)
Rurik – I’m fine like this. Leave it. I’m searching for this new concept and everything seems to be on a very vital level.
Nura – There’s some beef cutlets, mashed potatoes, some juice or tea?
Rurik – Or tea, they asked the Buddhist monk and he laughed into his tin cup, Tea will always be tea—on a conceptual level of course. Well, what other level is there?

Nura puts the teakettle on and places the beef patties in a frying pain.

Rurik – There was this old helpless woman standing on the sidewalk shivering down to her toes and there I was. I helped her across the street—she's crying regretfully, shivering, and I was too. No need to thank me, of course. Now, If Buddha appeared how would Buddha look on this old woman? How would he react to her tears? 
Nura—How are you Rurik? How are things?
Rurik—I was just at a man's funeral.
Nura—Whose funeral?
Rurik – You don't know him. And I hardly knew him either, but I needed to go and support the family, you understand. It's so sad to see all of those tears—such loneliness—death.
Nura – Yes awful. Luara has decided its time for Vika to become independent—to make her own breakfast, and not only for Vika, for all of us here...
Rurik – Of course we’re all on our own, I said it very well at the memorial—all those tears and feelings—very moving. Lately I've become very sensitive somehow, I'll be watching the television and some old film will come on like "It Was The Month of May" and my eyes start to water and in a little while I’m crying like a fish on the threshold...
Nura – Like a what?
Rurik – Brew some very strong tea Nura. This thought just came to me.
Nura – What thought?
Rurik – Here I’ve been searching for some motif, and it’s been floundering right here in front of my eyes.
Nura – Are you serious?
Rurik—Sorrow, misunderstanding, desperation and death. They exist, right?
Nura – Of course.
Rurik – And there’s this trembling—this vibration—no that’s too literal. In an emotional way, in an energetic way, it’s a very powerful energy.

Nura gives Rurik the beef cutlets and mashed potatoes. She slices him a cucumber and pours him a cup of tea.

Nura – If it needs more salt, the saltshaker is on the table.

Rurik hungrily eats a cutlet.

Rurik (with a full mouth) – Some sort of depth has developed, an understanding of everything, everything on a fine cellular and practical level— maybe not even cellular—more like a nuclear level. The meaning, the essence –like an angel in tears on earth. No joy, no regret and every step, in its own way it penetrates you deeply.
Nura – Right now is a difficult time for Vika, she’s just started the Institute, and we need to work with her, its not high school anymore. I think all this toughness isn’t right. We need to do it little by little.
Rurik—Yes, all on your own.
Nura – But Luara says we shouldn’t do anything, just let her get used to it right away.
Rurik – Of course get used to it right way.
Nura – Well then she could get stuck in some sort of stupor or worse, I'm afraid of that...
Rurik – A stupor's not good, we don't need that, why a stupor?
Nura – That's what I am talking about. It needs to be done gently. Start out softly and then later... but Luara says –- forge ahead and don't let up.
Rurik – Forge ahead, exactly, in the fiery furnace.
Nura – Well, there's something I don't understand.
Rurik—And then, with a passing glance, having finished with all of that, I understood that there is no need to rush. 
Nura – Well that’s what I think too.
Rurik—I'll sit there for a month, for a year even, thinking everything will fall into place—ideas don't happen so spontaneously, but then something completely new flashes by and on the literal plane its inexpressible, it irritates you—it needs to be examined closely. You'll pull yourself apart from the very core before the job is done.
Nura—Some more to eat or some more tea?
Rurik—Yes. Pour me another cup of strong tea, Nura. You and I have shared our souls today. 

Nura pours him another cup.

Nura – I'm concerned about Luara. She's decided to do something with money at some financial investment course. Some sort of class. I don't know what’s going on. Some fitness instructor put this idea in her head and now she's running with it full steam ahead.
Rurik—Well Mom likes to run.
Nura—We're not exactly girls anymore.
Rurik—Well, girls do blossom in the hay. You know, Okolosnikov, that dirty reptile, came to my studio half a year ago, looking in every corner, its not enough that he sucked up all my energy like a vacuum cleaner, but he stole all my ideas too! And I, you know, like a trusting soul, took everything he said at face value. He came in, dragging some girls—some students with him—you know, to look good—came in as if he was coming just to visit. And yesterday, at his exhibition, I see that everything is stolen, just like I was saying. The thing is, I’ve told myself a hundred times, don’t say anything out loud, but then these vampires materialize and I simply blurt it all out and well, there, you see the results. 
Nura – Are you painting now?
Rurik—No concentration. I walk around, back and forth, looking at everything and I just wait, right now I'm in this state and every Okolosnikov is there to suck up everything good that I've amassed with my own efforts and then everything gets thrown under the train.
Nura – Well could you sit here and concentrate? Vika will come home and you could try to talk to her about all this—what are two old women to her? You could gently talk to her, with out pushing too hard, about the smoking—about her skin, about how smoking ruins your skin or something. But you could talk to her, and I won't mix in, I'll be quiet. Should I pour you some juice?
Rurik—And one day all these idiots, all these celebrity artists and academics are gonna hear from me.
Nura – Will you stay and talk?
Rurik – Not to them, I won’t.
Nura – No, to Vika.
Rurik – With Vika— My little steam engine! I need to go Nura. The boat’s sinking and its time to start rowing. "Willow in the wind, Willow in the rain "--that's it, they’re all a bunch of stubborn international asses!

Rurik stands up, muttering to himself as he goes.

Nura – Rurik, do you need some money?
Rurik – Give me three hundred rubles and I'll pay you back, later.
Nura – (takes her wallet from her purse and gives him the money) We’ll settle up later.

Rurik leaves, shutting the door.

Nura – Well, there you are—it’s off to the store for a hula-hoop. Dinner is waiting, but there's no bread.