This masterly play in one Act has been amusing me greatly during isolation. I wanted to bring it to your attention as an option for short reading material during this interminable lockdown. Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) was a Russian playwright. He is considered the master of the modern short story. He probes beneath the surface of life with laconic precision. I recall seeing The Seagull at the Crescent Theatre (in the before time) with Louise and being moved to tears by how relevant it was.
Smoking is Bad For You (otherwise translated as The Dangers of Tobacco), tells the tale of a hen-pecked husband, Marcellus Nyukhin, whose wife keeps a music school and a girls’ boarding school. The version I am discussing is the 1903 version, not the earlier 1889 version which is slightly longer.
Please see a delightful performance by what appears to be a high school drama teacher below:
I love how insular this play is, how in such little time, Chekhov manages to paint a complete picture of this weary exhausted husband who is, in the end, frightened of his wife. Frightened so much that he submits to her will and puts himself in compromising positions (IE: on a stage talking on a subject which he has no knowledge of). This play, for me, is about more than subjugation, mind, it is, to paraphrase Graham Green, about ‘how one lives, constantly putting things off’. Nyukhin is all of us, his wife represents all of our problems. I have found, living in this country fifteen years now, that people allow themselves to be hounded by issues and instead of addressing them directly will follow in Nyukhin’s footsteps, audibly complaining about the consequence without trying or even wanting to remedy the source. This has never been truer than today. Nyukhin is, in a comedic way, Chekhov’s warning to us all.
I encourage you all to purchase a copy of Chekhov’s Short Plays. I have found mine immensely rewarding. I also understand Steve Coogan performed this play in BBC’s Chekhov Comedy Shorts series. This surely is a must watch if you can find it.