FOURTEEN LITTLE RED HUTS
a Play in Four Acts
Translated from the Russian by
Gennadi V. Alexeyev & Dmitri G. Alexeyev
DRAMATIS PERSONAEJOHANN LOUIS EDWARD HOZ, scientist of a world-wide importance, Chairman of the League of Nation's Commission on Solving the World Economic Enigma and So on and So Forth. 101 years old.
INTERGOM, Hoz's lady-friend, 21 years old.
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE, about 45 years old.
UBORNYAK, PYOTR POLIKARPOVICH, writer.
ZHOVOV, MECHISLAV EVDOKIMOVICH, writer.
FUSHENKO, GENNADI PAVLOVICH, writer.
SUENITA, Chairman of the "14 Red Little Huts" kolkhoz. 19-20 years old.
ZHELDOR, the railway station guard.
VERSHKOV, FILIP, a kolkhoznik of declining years.
KONTSOV, ANTON, kolkhoznik, 30 years old. Speaks and acts with a faultless clarity.
SEKUSHCHEVA, KSENYA, kolkhoz worker.
THE GUARD, the kolkhoz guard.
THE DISTRICT OLD MAN.
GARMALOV, Suenita's husband, ex-Red Army Soldier.
Suenita's and Ksenya's infants in arms.
Some passengers from a long-distance train.
The action takes place in 1932.
(Foyer of Moscow Railway Station. Flowers, tables, transparencies with welcoming inscriptions in foreign languages. A few of them in Russian. One large transparency proclaims: "For the Healthy Soviet Old Man! For Cultural and More Fruitful Old Age!".
( Whistles of faraway locomotives. Sounds of an orchestra tuning up somewhere on the platform. The Station Master is standing on the stage; he vigilantly inspects the premises, now and then replacing and rearranging the flowers -- for best effect. At the doorway is the Station Guard. The Welcoming Public Figure enters.
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: How do you do, comrade. When do you expect the train from abroad to arrive?
STATION MASTER: "The Mighty Bird" Express is to arrive in two minutes. The dispatcher has just informed us, though, that the train is four minutes late. But I think the engineer will make up the time.
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: I do agree with you; our transport system is entering an era of due punctuality.
(Long, distant, sorrowful whistle of the approaching train, broken up by speed and swirling wind)STATION MASTER: (officially) Trans-Soviet "Mighty Bird" Express Stolbtsy-Vladivostok is arriving at platform number one! In the parlor car deluxe travels Mister Johann Louis Edward Hoz, Honorary Member of the Stockholm Academy and Chairman of the Special Committee of the League of Nations for Solving the Enigma of the World Economy and So On and So Forth. (Glancing at his wristwatch) The delay -- half a minute! Engineer -- comrade Zhivago!
(The whistle of the train is heard within the station area. The sounds of squealing brakes. The train comes to a stop. The rumbling voices of the crowd. Greetings. A musical flourish. The Station Master, adjusting his uniform, steps out onto the platform. The Welcoming Public Figure is absorbed in a thoughtful pose. Johann Hoz enters the foyer hand-in-hand with Intergom. Intergom is holding a valise in her hand. They are followed by two writers: Ubornyak and Zhovov. After them comes the Station Master. The Welcoming Public Figure welcomes Hoz. He introduces himself to Hoz and to his lady-companion and utters a short welcoming phrase in French.)
HOZ: (irritated) I know, I know. Of course I know! I have already forgotten which languages I do not speak and what things I do not know. Russian, Hindi, Mexican, Hebrew, astronomy, psychotechnics, hydraulics... I am one hundred and one years old, and you are just a boy. (Getting even more annoyed) You are a boy! You dare to address me in French?!
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: Excuse me. Your lady-companion, did she also take the trouble to learn Russian?
HOZ: A boy! Stop irritating me on this irritated land! Intergom, tell him in Russian about all those trifles of yours.
INTERGOM: Down with anti-hay-stacking sentiments!
HOZ: What? What did you say? Fine girl! You know Russian better than I do! Repeat it right now. Can't you see how I'm tormented?
INTERGOM: Down with anti-hay-stacking sentiments! I read Soviet newspapers. I learnt it. Anti-hay-stacking sentiments means sorrow in Russian. It's ennui; it's not socialism.
HOZ: How bright of you!
INTERGOM: No, you're wrong. It's brilliant of me.
HOZ: Pardon. It's brilliant! What is it with me? I've started forgetting nonsense like that. Boys, girls, children, give me a walking stick made out of a grave cross so that I can shuffle off to that poor world beyond!
INTERGOM: You're a counter-fool, gramps!
INTERGOM: You are a counter-fool, which means you are a clever boy.
HOZ: (absorbed in thought) No one knows, Intergom.
STATION MASTER: (to Hoz) I congratulate you on your safe arrival. I wish you a pleasant journey about this greatest and as yet most alien-to-you country.
HOZ: Most alien?! No, you miss the point; all countries are equally alien and unwelcoming to me. But thank you.
(The Station Master bids farewell and departs.)
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: Welcome, Mr. Johann Hoz, great philosopher of weakening capitalism, brilliant master of opportunist trickeries, and I wish you... .
INTERGOM: To become a baby, a preschooler, a Pioneer, a dear friend of the new world.
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: (to Intergom, sulkily) That's only partly true. (to Hoz) I am welcoming you to this gigantic, still unknown country on behalf of the laboring people, who are creating happiness and truth for themselves and for you. We are happy to meet you in our common home!
HOZ: I doubt that you are really happy on my account. (A short pause.) I have never yet made anyone happy or gay. (Looking at Intergom) Maybe her, perhaps, but nobody else.
INTERGOM: Oh, yes, Johann, I am terribly happy with your love!
HOZ: I know, I know it... You are a woman first, and only then a human being.
INTREGOM: Forward and back, I am everywhere a woman.
HOZ: You are counter-clever, Intergom... Oh, mademoiselle girl, I am sick and tired of living within my own organism, of this life, of the boredom of current facts; give me some milk, please! I am bored, mademoiselle girl, I am bored of all those conscious feelings... Some milk for me!!
INTERGOM: (Takes a small bottle of pasteurized milk out of her valise and hands it to Hoz.) Have a drink of milk, gramps. Calm down, please, don't think; your stomach is too weak... For God's sake, gramps, empty the bottle to the last drop. I love you.
HOZ: (Having emptied the bottle, he gives it back to her.) And now, I would like to have something chemical, caustic...
INTERGOM: (Digging in the valise) Here you are, I found something. God knows what. Something chemical and absolutely distasteful.
HOZ: Give it to me, I have to swallow! (Takes a pill from Intergom's hands and swallows it. He then right away turns to the Welcoming Public Figure.) Where is this so-called socialism? Just show it to me at once; capitalism irritates me!
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: I am ready to show you some individual elements of our system immediately... Here you are! Just to the right there is a mother-and-child room.
INTERGOM: That's very kind of you, thank you. But for God's sake, show us a room for the poorest old men and show us what they are doing there!
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: (Embarrassed) I'm terribly sorry, but it's being repaired at the moment.
HOZ: Don't be in a hurry, Intergom. There are no old men here; people in this country die on time. (to the Welcoming Public Figure) Chief, comrade, stop repairing the room for old men: there will be nobody to put in there.
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: I have exaggerated a bit, Mr. Hoz. We don't even have such a room.
HOZ: Don't get embarrassed. I know that you are slightly... (mumbles something indistinctly).... But, after all, we are even much bigger rascals. Communist Greetings! (to all those present) Comrades, let's put it this way. They do have a mother-and-child room, but it's a mere nothing. They have few old men left and, naturally, there's no room for them. This is already a success. I'm right, am I not, gentlemen?
THE TWO WRITERS: (intensely, simultaneously, almost in unison) Hail! Valour! Wonderful! Gut! Cardinal! Merci!
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: You are grossly mistaken, gentlemen! We have a slogan: "For a healthy Soviet old man! For a cultural, more fruitful old age!" Just read it! (Points to the slogan on the wall.)
INTERGOM: Johann, are the Bolshevik old men as fond of women as you are?
HOZ: I doubt it.
INTERGOM: What would you do then if they overtake and surpass us in this respect?
HOZ: Then you'll join them, and I'll marry a young Komsomol girl -- younger than you.
INTERGOM: That's horrible, Johann!
HOZ: It's my way, Intergom. Don't you know that?
INTERGOM: Sure enough, Johann. Your passion makes my body progress.
HOZ: And it's withering as well, Intergom. Your body, I mean. While my experience is getting more rational.
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: (embarrassed) Our country awaits you, Mr. Hoz.
HOZ: Yes, yes, of course. We'll set off straight away into the Russian expanse, into the open air, into the greenery of woods, onto the collective-farm stove of a new world, back to all that natural nonsense!...
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: The car motors have already been started. Just let me know the route you choose to take.
HOZ: Into the obscurity of history, to Asia, into the Eastern Void... We'd like to measure the brightness of that dawn which you supposedly have ignited.
UBORNYAK: May I inquire as to Mr. Universal Thinker's point of view about some critical universal-historical problems?
HOZ: What are you, I wonder; a worker?
UBORNYAK: I am a true Russian prose writer, Pyotr Polykarpovich Ubornyak. I hope you are acquainted with my books "A Poor Tree", "A Profitable Year", "A Most Cultural Personality", "Forever Soviet", and other works of mine.
HOZ: You hope in vain: I don't know any of them.
UBORNYAK: The peoples of the world are well acquainted with my international activities in defense of my homeland...
HOZ: Excuse my absolute ignorance on the matter. How has your activity been expressed?
UBORNYAK: When the threat of British intervention dangled over this country, I married a famous English lady. At the time of the Japanese military threat, I became betrothed to a high-born Japanese girl.
HOZ: Very prudent. The intervention, as is well known, failed; but your services were of inestimable value. Who did you marry during the Civil War?
UBORNYAK: A most educated daughter of a respectable Russian general.
HOZ: Well done. Among the fools you look clever enough, Mr. Ubornyak.
UBORNYAK: Following a good old-time Russian tradition, according to the heart-felt friendliness of our most noble, most grateful, perfectly wonderful national custom, allow me to embrace you and give you a friendly kiss, so as to make this moment really cultural and historical!
HOZ: (Pointing to Intergom) You'd better kiss her on the cheek. She is in charge of my feelings.
(Intergom offers a cheek, puffing it out. Ubornyak kisses it in the most polite manner.)
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: Two more writers are dying to be introduced to you, Mr. Hoz: Mister-Citizen Mechislav Zhovov and Mister-Citizen Gennadi Fushenko.
HOZ: Make it quick, please. I need reality, not fiction.
(Mechislav Zhovov slowly approaches Hoz--almost touching him--with a shy smile, keeping embarrassingly silent.)
INTERGOM: Don't you find, Johann, that his face looks like a happy root-plant? I forgot the Russian term for it.
FUSHENKO: It's typical Russian vegetable, Mademoiselle.
INTERGOM: A happy pumpkin!
(A pause. Zhovov keeps silent.)
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: (To Hoz) He can't speak. He has ten dependants to support. But he is glad to see you.
FUSHENKO: (In a low, but persistent voice) Mr. Hoz, I am a member of the Board of the Writers' Union. I write stories from Turkish life....
(Hoz pays no attention to Fushenko. A pause of complete, stagnating bewilderment.)
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: Maybe Mister Hoz will speak more scientifically on the aims and purposes of his visit to this country where socialism is being built?
HOZ: Scientifically?! Stop irritating me! I've come here to enjoy myself and make merry. I'm traveling for trifles!!
UBORNYAK: (Portentously) You are mistaken, Mr. Hoz. Here in this country, which occupies one sixth part of the world's dry land, where....
FUSHENKO: Mr. Hoz, I....
HOZ: Stop pretending to be serious, gentlemen. You can't help laughing in this country, but instead you try hard to think! Just have a good laugh and show sympathy!
FUSHENKO: Mr. Hoz, I orga--....
HOZ: Very well, then. Keep on writing stories, playing with your fame.
(The sound of a train, arriving at the station; the buzz of the crowd of passengers. By the sounds one can guess that an ordinary interurban train has arrived. Some common passengers mistakenly enter the concourse stage, but Zheldor, the Station Guard, turns them out. Two passengers, however, manage to get by Zheldor and cross the stage, carrying sacks. A third passenger, who quietly and accidentally went by unnoticed, is Suenita. She carries bundles over her shoulder, hanging down on both sides; a sack of dried crusts and a mug over her back--a heap of books, tied up by a rope in front. Suenita is a dark-complexioned southern woman; she looks very tired and dirty after a long journey. She examines the people and the setting with an amazed look in her somewhat sad eyes.)
HOZ: (Observing Suenita) What a poor creature of nature!
SUENITA: We do not belong to the rich... How can I get to the Kazan Railway Station? I have to go back to the desert.
HOZ: (Examining her motionlessly) What is your name, creature of God?... Where are you hurrying, Soviet child?
SUENITA: I'm not a child. I'm the Chairman of the "Red Huts" shepherds' kolkhoz. I'm going back home to the Caspian Sea.
HOZ: What a marvel of life...a child is ruling a countryside kingdom! From where are you coming, my defenseless one?
SUENITA: I'm not defenseless -- we have a kolkhoz, my husband is serving in the Red Army. I went to Leningrad to receive a library as a reward.
FUSHENKO: Comrade Chairman, how many farms have been collectivized? Are kulaks still active? Are there any small breakdowns in your organized economic work? Should we urgently send a breakdown-liquidating brigade of writers to your kolkhoz? I am a member of the cultural association...
SUENITA: (thoughtfully) Writers?... Are they clever? There are fourteen little red huts in our kolkhoz. We don't have anything to read; we've read everything already. We read aloud at night. By lamp-light; the glass has cracked because of the flame. I read, and the people around me are thinking. And beyond the circle of light and thoughtful listeners is the darkness of night and the rustle of the Caspian Sea waves. We've read every book we have, and now they've become uninteresting. We found it dull to live only by our own brains. Then, because I kept a good account of my work-days, I was rewarded with a library. Well, they wanted to send the books, but they didn't. They were rather slow. Those bureaucrats don't care a bit about socialism. I decided to go get the books myself. So I did, and I got the books all right. Now I would like to get to the Kazan Railway Station to get a ticket for non-reserved seats..
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: Just look and see, Mr. Hoz, this small creature of socialism.
HOZ: No. A gigantic creature, my dear. All of God's world is hidden in the microcosm of this poor little thing. (to Suenita) Give me your hand, my happy one!
(Suenita meekly holds out her hand. Hoz kisses it.)
SUENITA: You'd better spit now. Because my hand is pretty dirty. And besides, hands are not for kisses; hands are for work and embraces.
UBORNYAK: She has taken a short-term hygiene course.
SUENITA: Yes, I'm an assistant nurse and even can act as a midwife.
HOZ: And have you tried having a child yourself?
SUENITA: Yes, I managed that already.
INTERGOM: Do you need any eau-de-cologne for your hands?
SUENITA: As you like. Not really. Where is the Kazan Railway Station?
FUSHENKO: Would you like me to get you a ticket without any queue?
SUENITA: How can you do such a thing?! There are a lot of people queuing up. It's against the law. I myself used to punish people for stealing a kilo of millet.
UBORNYAK: He can do anything, my dear. He even lives without queuing. His turn passed long ago, but he still keeps on living the cultured life! Genya, let's kiss each other!
FUSHENKO: Let's kiss, Pyotr Polikarpovich! (They kiss each other.)
INTERGOM: (to Suenita) Would you like some milk?
SUENITA: I used to drink it on the kolkhoz. Good-bye. I'd better go and queue up to get a ticket. I am afraid I'll be too late. Why are those two kissing each other? It's disgraceful!
HOZ: Wait a bit. I'll go with you. Can an old-timer join you?!
SUENITA: You're too old. We have no timber, you know; if you die, we have nothing to make your coffin out of. Then we'll have to just bury you in the sand.
HOZ: That's fine with me. Good-bye, gentlemen! Keep on writing your works, go on hailing and welcoming expresses! Take care!
( Hoz and Suenita walk towards exit.)
INTERGOM: (rushes after them) Johann! Where will I live? Johann! It's a foreign country for me, I'll die without you, Johann!
HOZ: (halting for a moment) Well, what next? Go on, irritate me, irritate me! Let the nonsense out of your body!
INTERGOM: (Pressing herself against him) Johann, you have exhausted my youth with your love....
HOZ: Yes, I did. I am a man, am I not, Intergom?
INTERGOM: Don't leave me like this! Have a drink of milk, have something chemical to eat. Let's go to the hotel and forget all about it. Take me to the desert with you; I'll wither away in Europe without you. (starts crying).
HOZ: The angels alone die for love and live in the wilderness. Intergom, you are a woman; you are not fit for the desert. In a few hours' time you'll be smiling again....
SUENITA: Dear old man, all the trains for the kolkhozes are leaving. We'll be left behind.
HOZ: Wait a moment. We'll soon have everything arranged, poor things!
INTERGOM: (in tears) Where will you have your milk, take your pills and tablets? Who will you love now? I've studied you, I've gotten used to feeling, and now I'll have to forget!
SUENITA: I'll feed him with what I have in my sack. I have enough dry crusts and crumbs.
HOZ: (to Ubornyak) Well, Mister Writer! Intergom is a Dutch of Flemish blood, though she was born in Russia. I think it would be be very useful to improve moral and political relations between your homeland and Holland. Take Intergom under the protective auspices of your love. Can't you do a favor for the Queen of Netherlands?!
INTERGOM: Oh, Johann! I am so incredibly sad just now! Well, kiss my hand!
HOZ: There now, Intergom, calm down: you know well enough that life isn't anything serious. Farewell, my poor body! (Kisses Intergom on the forehead and leaves her, approaching Suenita.)
UBORNYAK: (to Intergom, offering her his arm) Allow me to offer you most cultural friendship and hospitality! My door is open to all of Europe!
SUENITA: (to Hoz) Let's hurry up, gramps; let's get to our village. My kid's crying there.
HOZ: Let's go, you creation of God. Give me a dry crust from your sack to suck on.
SUENITA: Later. Let's get on the train, then you can guzzle all you want.
WELCOMING PUBLIC FIGURE: Mr. Hoz, the Buick stands ready for you. The engine is warmed up; the car is on duty for you.
HOZ: Turn it off. I'm beginning to get warmed up myself; let the engine cool down.
(Departs together with Suenita).
UBORNYAK: (with Intergom on his arm) You'll start an excellent and serious new life in my home, my dear and most sweet Madam Intergom.
(All on stage depart. Ubornyak takes Intergom by both her hands. )
UBORNYAK: Oh, my dear Dutch girl! Yours is a wonderful hydrotechnical motherland! Together we shall write novels and -- sketches! I have a dog named Makar at home; the beast will be crazy about you!
INTERGOM: (smiling) Oh, yes, Mr. Ubornyak, I'm fond of novels. And I love Makars, too -- they are so very nice!
UBORNYAK: Oh, dear, let me have some of Hoz's milk!
(Intergom takes out a bottle of milk from her valise and hands it to Ubornyak).
INTERGOM: Help yourself, please.
UBORNYAK: (after drinking down the milk) That scientific old man had a very cultural habit! By the way, my most excellent one, how could you live with that decrepit old geezer?...
INTERGOM: (smiling) Oh, Mr. Ubornyak, life is not so serious!
END OF ACT ONE