The Death of Ivan Ilych – play extract

Posted by in Blog, Plays on Feb 22, 2012

Here are the first couple of scenes of my adaptation of The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy. The complete play is soon to be made available as an app for iPad users.





Based on the story by LEO TOLSTOY


(N.B. The part of Ivan Ilych is played by two actors. Death is played in a long black cloak and a mask until the final scene.)


Scene 1: The Death Is Announced


LAWYERS & GERASIM, who is sweeping


LAWYERS:                         (ad lib) Bonjour mon ami!.. Enchanté…Ravi de vous voir…Bonjour…Bonjour…Cher monsieur! Quelle belle surprise…


GERASIM:                        (sings)            Rossiya, Rossiya! Rossiya rodina moya…


LAWYERS:                        Peasant!


GERASIM finishes sweeping & exits, passing IVANOVICH reading a newspaper


1st LAWYER:                        What about the Melvinski trial, eh? An open and shut case, if ever I saw one!


2nd LAWYER:                        Not at all, mon vieux. Very complex.


3rd LAWYER:                        Looks black for the plaintiff.


1st LAWYER:                        Au contraire, mon vieux. White as the driven snow.


3rd LAWYER:                        He’ll be sent down at the latter end, mark my words.


1st LAWYER:                        Nonsense! He’ll be awarded huge damages. Up for a fortune.


3rd LAWYER:                        Black and down.


1st LAWYER:                        White and up.


2nd LAWYER:                        Left or right?


1st LAWYER:                        Left, of course.


3rd LAWYER:                        Right. No question about it.


1st & 2nd LAWYERS:             (ad lib)Black! White! Up! Down! Left! Right! (etc)


IVANOVICH:                        Gentlemen! Ivan Ilych has died!


LAWYERS:                             (cluster round IVANOVICH)Really? You don’t say! No! Is it true? (etc, ad lib)


1st IVAN ILYCH:                  (upstage, in white nightshirt) WHY?


IVANOVICH:                        Here. Read it yourself. (Hands paper to LAWYERS)


2nd LAWYER:                        Praskovya Fyodorovna, with profound sorrow –


3rd LAWYER:                        Demise of her beloved husband, member of the Court of Justice –


1st IVAN ILYCH:                   WHY?


3rd LAWYER:                        Funeral will take place on Friday at one o’ clock –


1st IVAN ILYCH:                   WHY ME?


LAWYERS:                              (separate and speak aside)


2nd LAWYER:                        Well, he’s dead, but I’m alive!


1st LAWYER:                        I shall be sure to get Vinnikov’s place now!


3rd LAWYER:                        I must apply for my brother-in-law’s transfer right away!


IVANOVICH:                         It is he who is dead, and not I!


1st IVAN ILYCH:                   But why?


LAWYERS :                             (come together again)


IVANOVICH:                        I thought he would never leave his bed again. It’s very sad.


3rd LAWYER:                        But really, what was wrong with him?


1st LAWYER:                        The doctors couldn’t say.


1st IVAN ILYCH;                 They could say plenty!


1st LAWYER:                        They could say plenty. But they all said different things.


1st IVAN ILYCH:                 They all said different things!


3rd LAWYER:                        When I last saw him, I thought he was getting better.


2nd LAWYER:                        And I haven’t seen him since the holidays. I always meant to go.


IVANOVICH:                        Had he any property?


3rd LAWYER:                        I think his wife had a little, but something quite trifling.


2nd LAWYER:                        We shall have to go and see her, but they live so far away.


1st LAWYER:                        Far away from you, you mean. Everything’s far away from your place.


2nd LAWYER:                        You see? He can never forgive me for living on the other side of the river. Ah well, à toute à l’heure. (exit)


Enter DEATH, who taps each LAWYER on the shoulder, and frightens them offstage. He then goes upstage to join IVAN ILYCH. They exit together.)






PRASKOVYA:                        I know you were a true friend of Ivan Ilych.


IVANOVICH:                        Believe me! (He shakes her hand with a tragic gesture. Brief tableau)


PRASKOVYA:                        (heaves a deep sigh)


IVANOVICH:                        (heaves a deeper sigh)


PRASKOVYA:                        (heaves a deeper sigh still)


IVANOVICH:                        (heaves a sigh even deeper, somewhat operatic)


PRASKOVYA:                        (a sigh like a groan of pain)


IVANOVICH:                        (a sigh like a farmyard noise)


PRASKOVYA:                        Shall I fetch you something for your stomach?


IVANOVICH:                        You are too kind, but no. No thank you.


PRASKOVYA:                        Come into the parlour. (She leads him to a sofa and a pouffe)


PRASKOVYA:                        Do sit down. (aside) I feel sure that he will sit on the pouffe, and it has loose springs. As a widow, of course, recently bereaved, I cannot warn him of anything as banal as a pouffe with loose springs.


IVANOVICH:                        (aside) Which should it be? The sofa or the pouffe? To sit on a sofa with a widow, even one so recently bereaved – nay, especially with one so recently bereaved – could lead to gossip! It had better be the pouffe.


(He sits. There is a grinding noise, and he is lowered almost to the floor.)


PRASKOVYA:                        (aside) I knew it! I shall pretend nothing has happened.


IVANOVICH:                        (aside) Damn! I shall pretend nothing has happened.


PRASKOVYA:                        Did I ever show you the little miniature of Ivan Ilych and myself on our (wipes away tear) wedding day?


IVANOVICH:                        No.


PRASKOVYA:                        Allow me to show it to you.


(She tries to rise, but her shawl is caught in the sofa. IVANOVICH tries to help her, but has to roll on to the floor to get up from the collapsed pouffe. Tableau: PRASKOVYA straining away from the sofa, IVANOVICH trying to get up. PRASKOVYA finally frees herself. IVANOVICH manages to stand upright. She shows him the miniature)


IVANOVICH:                        Charming. Charming.


PRASKOVYA:                        I’m so glad you like it. Do sit down.


IVANOVICH:                        I, er – Yes. Thanks.


(PRASKOVYA sits on the sofa. IVANOVICH goes to join her, but she lies full length. He wheels round abruptly, and sits on the pouffe, which collapses under him again.)


PRASKOVYA:                        Please smoke.


(Enter DEATH & 1st IVAN ILYCH, unseen by the others)


IVANOVICH:                        (takes out pipe) Did he suffer much?


PRASKOVYA:                        He suffered dreadfully, especially during the last few days. He screamed unceasingly! Not for minutes, but for hours. For the last three days he simply shrieked incessantly. It was unendurable. I cannot understand how I bore it. Come into the garden. (IVANOVICH struggles to his feet) You could hear him from three rooms away. Oh, what I have suffered!


1st IVAN ILYCH:                        Why have you brought me here? Why do you torment me like this? Go on! Strike me! Strike me down! (DEATH merely looks at him)


1st IVAN ILYCH:                        But what is it for? What is it all for?


DEATH:                                    What is it that you want?


1st IVAN ILYCH:                        What do I want? I want to live, and not to suffer.


DEATH:                                    To live – how?


1st IVAN ILYCH:                        Why, to live as I used to. Well and pleasantly.


DEATH:                                    As you lived before. Well and pleasantly. You think you lived well. You think you lived pleasantly.


1st IVAN ILYCH:                        Why, what do you mean?


DEATH:                                    Your life was most simple. Most ordinary.


1st IVAN ILYCH:                        Exactly. Most simple and most ordinary.


DEATH:                                    Most simple, most ordinary, and therefore, most terrible. (Exit)


1st IVAN ILYCH:                        Wait! What do you mean? Come back!…Most simple, most ordinary, and therefore most terrible? Simple, ordinary, terrible?



Fade into next scene