is a two-act play developed at the Antaeus Theatre in North Hollywood under the guidance of directors Christopher Hart and Lisa James.
Chekhov and Tolstoy.
Chekhov and his wife, the actress Olga Knipper.
The young Anton Chekhov.
FULL SCRIPT AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST.
(Middle of Act One. DR. ALTSCHULLER makes a home visit to his patient,
CHEKHOV, in bathrobe, sits. AN OLD-FASHIONED INKSTAND rests on his lap.
He writes. Sunlight streams through a window. ALTSHULLER enters hesitantly.)
ALTSHULLER: With your permission.
CHEKHOV (upbeat): Colleague! May Allah be praised. Masha said you were coming. And, well, here you are. Come in, come in.
ALTSHULLER: Thank you.
CHEKHOV: My new inkstand. You like it? I had it shipped all the way from Tblisi. Very special, don’t you think?
DR. ALTSHULLER: Very special. (frank beat) Truthfully, Anton Pavlovich, I see nothing special about it in the least.
CHEKHOV: Colleague. Look at this inlay, the luster of the wood, the seamless craftsmanship. I’m declaring it my new medicine. In fact, I believe it’s what’s keeping me alive.
DR. ALTSHULLER: Didn’t you say you just got it?
CHEKHOV: It hasn’t failed me so far, has it. (works to conceal uneasiness) Did she...? Masha has seen you?
ALTSHULLER: She it was who let me in.
CHEKHOV: Ah. Well, have a seat. I love interruptions.
ALTSHULLER: I’ve always heard that writers hate to be disturbed.
CHEKHOV: Not me. Anything not to operate. That’s what writing is, you know: self-inflicted surgery. Devilishly gruesome. And the ailment? But here, tell me how you are.
ALTSHULLER: Your aspect is much improved, Anton Pavlovich. The Malinkov protocol did its work well.
CHEKHOV: I will certainly allow you to believe that.
ALTSHULLER: I only seek information.
CHEKHOV: So my sister tells me.
ALTSHULLER: Come again?
CHEKHOV: She said you came at her the other night with more questions than a tax collector from the imperial treasury.
ALTSHULLER: Came...at her.
CHEKHOV: Did she misrepresent?
ALTSHULLER: Really, Anton Pavlovich, I’d prefer we discussed you.
CHEKHOV: I wouldn’t.
ALTSHULLER: So that’s it, then.
CHEKHOV: Now you’re offended. Bloody thin-skinned for a provincial saw-bones. (starting to write) Back to the self-mutilation.
(ALTSHULLER glares at CHEKHOV writing; rises to leave.)
CHEKHOV: (without looking up) No goodbye?
ALTSHULLER (strongly): What your friend Levitan tried to do with a gun, you’re doing with indifference. Fatal indifference!
CHEKHOV: So she told you about Isaak Illich, did she? What else did my keeper disclose? That I miss Moscow? Crave chocolate? Correspond with a Slavonic Venus who languishes in Paris?
ALTSHULLER: The subject is your condition, Anton Pavlovich.
CHEKHOV: I’ll decide what the goddamn subject is! (off the stunned reaction) I hope you didn’t take me for a paragon. I have as much spleen as the next man, Isaak Naumovich. Now, what are you going to do about it? Go and whine to her again?
ALTSHULLER: I don’t have to justify myself.
CHEKHOV: Impudent pup, sit down. Sit! Down! You worship a false god: the facts. They used to say the same about me. “His stories are so observant, so clinical.” What crap. Writing is about suffering not facts, and the same goes for medicine. You can’t coddle your patient. You need to tell him the truth -- that he’s a cockroach, a shitter, a bloated bag of self-pity. If he reacts positively, you might just produce something that’s eluded our priests and philosophers for centuries.
ALTSHULLER: What is that, Anton Pavlovich?
CHEKHOV: A transformed human being, you dolt!
ALTSHULLER (pulls out stethoscope; uses it during the following): One final question, if I might be permitted.
CHEKHOV (acquiescent): By letting me rant, you’ve gotten on my good side. (opens his shirt; submits to the exam)
ALTSHULLER: Your play The Seagull.
CHEKHOV: No comment.
ALTSHULLER: But if I could understand what happened back when you were writing it? Were there problems associated with that play?
CHEKHOV: Problems? (looking off) Nothing that couldn’t be remedied with castor oil and a cold sitz bath.
New York, 1934. Isaak Altshuller, M.D. speaks to a conference about two unusual cases of "the white death," tuberculosis, that he attended back in Russia before the Revolution. One of the patients was a medical colleague: Anton Chekhov, M.D. The other consumptive was himself.
In the play, as happened in life, the two ill physicians become friends and care for one another from 1898 until Chekhov's death in 1904. They also interact in surprising, tender and sometimes hurtful ways with the two women in Chekhov’s life, his sister Mariya and his eventual wife Olga Knipper.
Chekhov’s decline in health parallels his ascent to the heights of world literature. Seagull, Vanya, Three Sisters and Cherry Orchard are all written during this period, and all are mounted by the director Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavsky at the famed Moscow Art Theatre. For Altshuller, contact with the Chekhovs both saves and devastates him. At it's core, this is a love story.
The play makes extensive use of primary sources including letters, diaries and memoirs.