Valentin Krasnogorov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A CRUEL LESSON

 

A play in two acts

 

Translated by Elena Malkov

 

 

 

 

ATTENTION! All copyrights to the play are protected by the laws of Russia and international legislation and belong to the author. Its edition and reprinting, duplication, public performance, translation into foreign languages, without a written permission of the author is forbidden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contacts:

 

e-mail:           valentin.krasnogorov@gmail.com

Site:               http://krasnogorov.com

 

 


 

 

 

 

Synopsis

 

       A drama about the social and psychological roots of cruelty, about thin boundaries separating moral and immoral actions. The basis for the play is a real psychological experiment, which has resonated on a broad scale. Two students under the instruction of a professor torture a woman for scientific purposes. Participating in the experiment seriously affects the relationships of the characters. The sharp storyline holds the audience in a constant state of tension. The play is especially popular among adolescents. These days, when harassment has become a part of everyday life, this play is especially powerful. 2 male roles, 2 female roles.


 

 

 

 

CHARACTERS

 

KOLTSOV – psychology professor

 

ALICE – his assistant

 

MICHAEL – student

 

KIRA – student

 

 

The action takes place in one of our modern universities. The basis of the play is formed by actual events – a psychological experiment that resonated deeply in the international media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Act I

 

Professor Koltsov’s laboratory. Table, several chairs and armchairs, panel screen, materials for psychological tests: tables, drawings, etc. A chair, and, next to it, a computer with a screen facing the audience. The chair is fitted with electrical wiring.

 

Enter Kira and Michael – university students. The interior of the laboratory does not evince for them any interest – this does not seem to be their first time here.

 

KIRA. Where is Koltsov?

MICHAEL. Probably around here somewhere. The lab isn’t locked.

KIRA. What time did he schedule this for?

MICHAEL. Two o’clock.

KIRA. That means he’ll be here in fifteen minutes.

MICHAEL. If he’s not late.

KIRA. The professor is never late.

Pause. Kira looks at the wired chair.

This chair didn’t use to be here.

MICHAEL. I don’t remember it either. Looks like a dentist’s chair.

KIRA. More like an electric chair.

MICHAEL. It looks a bit like both. Stop wandering around. Sit.

Kira sits down on one of the chairs.

No, better sit here. It’ll be more comfortable.

Lovingly sits Kira in a soft armchair and sits down next to her.

KIRA. I wonder what sort of experiment Koltsov thought up this time?

MICHAEL. (Amiably.) You’ve really been getting into psychology lately.

KIRA. (With a barely noticeable challenge.) Yes, I love what I study. Is that so bad?

MICHAEL. No, it’s wonderful.

KIRA. For you, studying psychology is entertainment, but I’m going to make a living off it. I can’t count on any other income.

MICHAEL. Once again you’re reproaching me. It’s not my fault that my dad rakes in a lot of dough. (Smiling.) Or is that some kind of sin?

KIRA. (Smiling in return.) No, Michael, a rich father is not your greatest shortcoming.

Pause.

MICHAEL. By the way, I’ve figured out my future plans. I’ll graduate, then go right back to college.

KIRA. Where?

MICHAEL. Business school.

KIRA. (Without enthusiasm.) Congratulations.

MICHAEL. That’s what my father wants. He’s trying to lure me into taking over his company.

KIRA. That became obvious a long time ago. But what about psychology? Are you really going to leave it behind?

MICHAEL. What can I do… (Smiling. He’s clearly in a good mood today.) But it’s actually for the best. Two psychologists in one family – that’s too much.

KIRA. Who’s the second?

MICHAEL. Can’t figure it out?

KIRA. (Looking away.) No.

MICHAEL. I think you understand everything perfectly, but I’ll explain myself, especially since I should have done so a long time ago.

Pause.

          We’ve been together for a year and a half…

KIRA. Thanks for the delicacy with which you’ve identified our relationship.

MICHAEL. I know it’s been a bit of a drag. I even think it’s starting to weigh you down – probably because its future was so ambiguous... So… You know, my family was categorically opposed to my marriage. In their opinion, it’s too early.

KIRA. Apparently they thought I wasn’t good enough for you.

MICHAEL. Perhaps. But that’s not important anymore. I wrote them about everything and got a response yesterday. Long story short, they’re no longer opposed to us being together…

Kira is silent.

          Do you understand me?

KIRA. Yes.

MICHAEL. Honestly, I was worried about the old man, but I had faith in him all the same. He’s even ready to buy us not just an apartment, but a house in the country. I’m so fucking glad that they’ve agreed.

KIRA. And if they were against it, would you have left me?

MICHAEL. (Smiling happily.) That doesn’t matter anymore. The important thing is that we’re going to have a great life together. We’ll have a house, a garden and loads of kids. I really love kids.

KIRA. I know.

MICHAEL. And flowers.

KIRA. I know.

MICHAEL. And you.

Pause. Michael goes over to Kira and embraces her.

          Why aren’t you saying “I know”?

KIRA. (Smiling despite herself.) I know.

MICHAEL. So you agree?

KIRA. I don’t know.

MICHAEL. What do you mean you don’t know? Then again, you’re right. I’m not worthy of you. And I’ve been silent too long. But that’s all behind us now, right? And don’t you love me just a little?

KIRA. I don’t know.

MICHAEL. Don’t think I don’t have any dreams besides the garden. I have big plans. As you know, I’m very insistent, used to always getting my way. (Smiling.) So don’t miss out on being the wife of a very important person.

KIRA. Or at the very least, an ambitious one.

Pause.

MICHAEL. Well, what do you say?

KIRA. I don’t know.

MICHAEL. (Nervously.) But you’re not refusing?

KIRA. I don’t know.

MICHAEL. What’s with all the “I don’t knows”?

KIRA. Is it okay if I think about it for a while?

MICHAEL. Of course!

KIRA. Don’t be mad, okay?

MICHAEL. As long as you won’t be mad that I’ve been silent for so long… And in general, you should try to be kinder, more patient.

KIRA. I am who I am. If you don’t like me like this…

MICHAEL. (Interrupting.) Once again, we’re at an impasse.

KIRA. You’re right, I’ve become too mean. (Kisses him on the check.) Let’s not talk about it anymore.

Pause.

          The professor’s still not here.

MICHAEL. (Looking at the clock.) Five to two.

KIRA. Do you know who else will be participating in the experiment?

MICHAEL. I don’t think anyone else will be.

KIRA. So, from the whole class, Koltsov chose just you and me? I wonder why?

MICHAEL. (Shrugging.) How should I know?

KIRA. He said it just like that – “You and Kira should come here at two o’clock”?

MICHAEL. (Evasively.) I don’t remember exactly… Don’t give it too much thought. It’s just regular lab work.

KIRA. His experiments are always so unexpected. I wonder what he’s planning this time?

MICHAEL. (Yawning.) We’ll know soon. I doubt it’s anything very interesting. Psychology is a very academic field.

KIRA. But Koltsov’s publications always spark chaos in the media. How many times has he been baited, hunted down…

MICHAEL. Making him all the more famous.

KIRA. That’s not what he’s after.

MICHAEL. He’s good at what he does, I won’t dispute that. A clear mind, impeccable reasoning… more like a machine than a man.

KIRA. So what’s not to like?

MICHAEL. (Shrugging.) For some reason, I think that, for him, people are just guinea pigs. He’ll skin them if he thinks it’ll further his scientific goals.

KIRA. That’s bullshit.

MICHAEL. And he’s a bit boring.

KIRA. That’s not true. Koltsov is always passionate, always rich with ideas…

MICHAEL. (In imitation.) And also quite young, elegant, famous and single.

KIRA. Jealous?

MICHAEL. (Laughing.) No. I know the difference between the adoring respect of a student towards her professor and the love of a woman towards another man. But, honestly, I am jealous. Just a little.

KIRA. You shouldn’t be.

MICHAEL. What can you do…

KIRA. You have nothing to worry about.

MICHAEL. I know. If only because he already has someone.

KIRA. Does he?

MICHAEL. You didn’t know?

KIRA. I’m not interested in that. (Quiet for a moment.) Is she pretty?

MICHAEL. Do you think he has bad taste?

Kira doesn’t answer.

          He travels with her all over the place… Even took her abroad…

KIRA. Is she young?

MICHAEL. Not a girl, but not an old lady either. In a word, just right. So you are interested after all?

KIRA. No. I’m just letting you tease me with your gossip.

MICHAEL. It’s not gossip. She’s his assistant. I saw her myself. Very attractive. There’s something about her… (Makes an uncertain motion with his hands.)

KIRA. That I don’t have?

MICHAEL. (Laughing.) You’re a different story. (Tries to hug Kira, but she wriggles free.) What’s wrong with you kiddo? Jealous?

KIRA. Yes, jealous of you and that ginger.

MICHAEL. (Laughing.) But she’s not a ginger! Why would you think she was?

KIRA. (Stubbornly.) No, she’s a ginger.

MICHAEL. Why?

KIRA. Because I don’t like gingers.

MICHAEL. (Laughing uproariously.) What kind of logic is that? You’re so mean. Come here so I can kiss you!

Tries to embrace Kira. Enter Koltsov and Alice. Students get serious. Koltsov, seeing them, stops.

KOLTSOV. Good afternoon.

KIRA. Good afternoon.

MICHAEL. Hello, Professor Koltsov.

KOLTSOV. (Introducing his companion.) Alice, my assistant.

ALICE. (Smiling, reaches out her hand to Michael.) We saw each other yesterday.

MICHAEL. (Shaking her hand.) But we didn’t introduce ourselves. My name is Michael.

KOLTSOV. I’m sorry, but Kira, why are you here? Do you need to speak with me about something?

KIRA. (Surprised.) Me?.. I… Didn’t you ask me to come?

KOLTSOV. You? Why?

KIRA. To take part in your experiment.

KOLTSOV. Michael, what’s going on? Why did you bring Kira? I told you to bring Natasha.

MICHAEL. (Embarrassed.) That’s true. But I thought you wouldn’t care who I brought. So I decided…

KOLTSOV. You decided wrong. Kira, I’m very sorry, but your help will not be needed today. You’re free to go.

Alice observes with interest. Kira gives her a displeased look.

MICHAEL. What’s wrong with Kira? She’s a good student, no worse than Natasha…

KOLTSOV. Thank you Michael, I am familiar with Kira’s accomplishments. But she won’t do for this experiment.

MICHAEL. Why?

KOLTSOV. It would take too long to explain.

KIRA. Please, don’t make me leave. I’m curious.

KOLTSOV. (Firmly.) But I invited Natasha and was not planning on meeting you. Good day. I’m sorry. (Turning away from Kira.) Alice, go prepare for the experiment.

Alice walks away, takes off her coat, fixes her hair. Kira bites her lip, humiliated.

MICHAEL. Will Alice also be participating in the experiment?

KOLTSOV. Yes.

KIRA. But why are they allowed to, and I’m not?

MICHAEL. Yeah, what’s wrong with my fiancée?

KOLTSOV. Your fiancée? (Shifts his gaze to Kira.) I’m sorry, I didn’t know. When did you get engaged?

Kira is silent.

MICHAEL. Today.

KOLTSOV. Congratulations.

MICHAEL. Thank you.

KOLTSOV. Time to start. (Puts on a lab coat, takes a notebook.)

KIRA. But what about me?

KOLTSOV. (Curtly.) Come back another time. Right now I’m busy.

Kira heads toward the exit, not looking at anyone.

          On second thought, wait.

Kira stops.

          You’re right, what’s the difference? Stay, if you’d like. (Softer.) Don’t be angry, Kira. Trust me, I have very good reasons not to let you participate. But since it’s turned out this way… So, you’re getting married?

MICHAEL. (Answering for Kira.) Yes.

KOLTSOV. (Smiling.) If you’d like, I can perform some sort of psychological compatibility test. (Quickly.) Stand face to face!

The students do as they’re told.

          A little farther away from each other! Now, imagine that you’re walking on a very narrow bridge that can only fit one person. Under the bridge is a cliff, you can’t fall or jump. Go!

Michael and Kira walk towards each other and, meeting, stop.

          And now, each of you has to get to the other side. What are you going to do?

Long pause.

MICHAEL. What do you recommend?

KOLTSOV. Think of something. There are so many options!

MICHAEL. Such as?

KOLTSOV. You can use force, affection, abuse, cleverness. You can be obstinate or yielding – whatever you want!

Pause. Kira and Michael look at each other.

MICHAEL. But really, what would you advise?

KOLTSOV. (Shrugging.) Give the lady the right of way.

Michael gives Kira his hand and leads her across the bridge.

KIRA. Professor Koltsov, would you have done the same?

KOLTSOV. (Smiling.) No. If I were your fiancé, I would have taken you in my arms and said: “Kira, my love, where shall I take you? To my side of the bridge, or to yours?” (Carelessly.) Or something like that.

KIRA. And I would have replied: “What does it matter, my love? Both sides of the bridge are ours now!”

MICHAEL. And where would you have taken her?

KOLTSOV. That’s a secret. Anyway, that wasn’t really a test, just a joke. I have no right to insinuate myself into your private lives.

KIRA. Is that what today’s experiment is all about?

KOLTSOV. No, of course not. (Becomes serious.) Alice, are you ready?

ALICE. Nearly. (To Koltsov.) Can I borrow you for a minute?

Alice and Koltsov exit the room.

KIRA. I don’t understand, Michael, why did you bring me here if Koltsov wanted Natasha?

MICHAEL. (Guiltily.) I really did think that he wouldn’t care. I don’t know why he was being so stubborn. And I like spending time with you a lot more.

KIRA. (Angrily.) Thanks.

MICHAEL. And I wanted to talk to you.

KIRA. By the way, there was absolutely no need to call me your fiancée in front of everybody. I haven’t agreed to anything yet.

MICHAEL. Sorry, it was an accident.

KIRA. No it wasn’t. I know you. By the way, do you know what that test on the “bridge” showed me? That you always listen to other people’s advice. You should’ve called your daddy while you were at it.

MICHAEL. (Evasively.) How did you like Alice?

KIRA. (Guardedly.) Pleasant lady.

MICHAEL. (Heartfelt.) Very.

KIRA. I think I’ve seen her somewhere before.

MICHAEL. Doubt it. Koltsov brought her here very recently. I think the two of them are very close.

Alice and Koltsov return.

KOLTSOV. I apologize for the delay. Let’s begin. Everyone take a seat, please.

Everyone except Koltsov sits.

          For hundreds, or maybe thousands, of years, there have been arguments over whether or not bodily punishments benefit discipline and education. Even now, many people continue to believe that a good whipping does a child no harm. Nor an adult. Oddly enough, there is as yet no consensus on the subject among psychologists and educators. Some believe that punishment aids the learning process, others, that punishment harms it.

MICHAEL. And what do you believe?

KOLTSOV. I don’t know what to believe. More precisely, I think that the answer can be found on a scientific basis. This is why we’re performing this experiment.

KIRA. So what does it entail?

KOLTSOV. You, Kira and you, Michael, will be playing the role of “teachers,” and Alice has agreed to take upon herself the role of “student.” To be honest, this role is far from pleasant. Alice, please.

Alice sits in the wired chair.

          Your job is to make sure that the “student” learns a lesson as quickly as possible. For instance, a twenty-line excerpt from Shakespeare.  And now for the most important thing: for every mistake the student makes you must – I repeat, must – punish her with an electric shock of increasing voltage.

MICHAEL. (Shaking his head.)  A cruel lesson.

KOLTSOV. What can you do? The search for truth is not always a happy one.

KIRA. Don’t you think that this educational method, regardless of outcome, traumatizes the soul of the student?

KOLTSOV. (Drily.) The student’s soul does not interest me in this experiment. My goal is simply to establish whether or not the fear of punishment helps someone learn. The influence of said punishment on the student’s soul is a different problem entirely.

MICHAEL. Tell me, these electric shocks… do they hurt?

KOLTSOV. Of course. Especially at higher voltages. Otherwise they wouldn’t be a punishment. Observe.

Brings students to the remote control next to the wired chair and presses a button. The computer screen shows the number “20”.

          With every subsequent touch of the button, the intensity automatically increases by twenty volts. See?

Presses the button several times. The computer screen displays the numbers 40, 60, 80, etc.

          Up to eighty to one hundred volts, the shock is more or less tolerable, but afterwards, it becomes very unpleasant.

MICHAEL. Your explanation is so dispassionate... It makes me feel uncomfortable.

KOLTSOV. I'm simply trying to be clear.

KIRA. Is there a maximum voltage?

KOLTSOV. Yes. Three hundred volts.

MICHAEL. Is that dangerous?

KOLTSOV. Three hundred volts – that is more than serious. So far, everything has ended well, luckily, especially since Alice regularly goes for doctor's check-ups. (To Alice) Speaking of which, when was the last time you saw a doctor?

ALICE. (With some hesitation.) The doctor?.. Fairly recently.

KOLTSOV. And what did he think about your heart?

ALICE. (Still hesitating.) It’s fine.

KOLTSOV. Have you brought some proof?

ALICE. No… I didn’t know you’d need any.

KOLTSOV. (Frowning.) Technically, that’s a violation of the rules… Well, let’s just hope everything will be okay this time around.

MICHAEL. (Happily.) Don’t worry, Alice. Personally, I’m not planning to cause you any pain.

KOLTSOV. No, my friends. Your duty is to teach the lesson to the end, that is, to teach the student the entire excerpt. And you must do so as quickly as possible. The faster the student memorizes the text, the higher my evaluation of your teaching abilities will be. Do you understand?

MICHAEL. Yes.

KOLTSOV. I will not hide from you the fact that I will be evaluating your professional skills and the strength of your character based on this lesson. I need active, thinking, strong-willed students, not some spineless pseudo-do-gooders.

MICHAEL. We’ll do our best.

KIRA. May I ask Alice a personal question?

Koltsov gives Alice a questioning look.

ALICE. Please.

KIRA. Tell me, why did you agree to sit in that chair? After all, it’ll be unpleasant, if not painful.

ALICE. (Evasively.) Science requires sacrifice.

KIRA. And you’ll agree to become this sacrifice, just for the sake of science? Or… or from a desire to help Professor Koltsov?

KOLTSOV. In order to satisfy your curiosity, Kira, I will inform you that Alice is getting paid very well for her unpleasant work.

MICHAEL. But isn’t it wrong to ask a person to go through this, even in exchange for payment? The time of the gladiators has long since passed.

ALICE. No one forced me to do this. I was asked, and I agreed.

KOLTSOV. (Drily.) No more talk. Everyone makes money any way they can or want to. Any further questions?

Pause.

MICHAEL. (Trying to ease the tension with a smile.) Nope, all clear.

KOLTSOV. I would like to add that your participation in this experiment is completely voluntary. But, once the lesson begins, you must take full responsibility for the outcome. A reminder: the experiment is very important for scientific purposes.

Pause.

          Kira, have you reconsidered?

KIRA. I trust in your authority.

Kolstov: Flattering as it is to hear that, you must make this decision for yourself. This research is necessary for science and for society, but if you don’t like it, it’s not too late to back out. I can always find another volunteer. By the way, I invited Natasha, not you.

KIRA. I’m staying.

KOLTSOV. And you, Michael?

MICHAEL. To be honest, I was expecting something more interesting, but I’m in.

KOLTSOV. Excellent. One last thing: for your participation in the experiment, you will each receive a monetary reward. It’s not much, but a reward nonetheless. Please, take it. And sign here.

Presents the money to the students.

MICHAEL. You don’t really need to do this… we are volunteers, after all.

KOLTSOV. If you’d like, you can donate this money to the university later. But for now, just take it. Such are the rules of the experiment.

Michael reluctantly takes the money. Kira hides her share in her wallet. Koltsov continues, happily.

          And now, the contract is sealed! Michael, let’s attach the electrodes.

Baring the assistant’s arms to the elbows, Koltsov attaches electrodes to the skin with the help of the students.

          Outstanding. And now, please help me tie the assistant to the chair.

MICHAEL. (Taken aback.) Tie her? Why?

KOLTSOV. You will understand later. Just don’t tighten the constraints too much… There, good…

Michael hesitatingly helps Koltsov tie Alice to the chair.

          Ready. (To students.) Well, who would like to start?

MICHAEL. Ladies first.

KOLTSOV. Very good. Kira, please begin. Here is a book of Shakespeare’s plays, look through it and pick any twenty-line excerpt you like. (To Michael.) Please wait in the next room. Don’t let anyone in, and don’t come in yourself.

MICHAEL. Can’t I watch?

KOLTSOV. (Firmly.) No.

MICHAEL. All right then, I guess I’ll wait. (Leaving, addresses Kira.) Good luck!

Exit Michael. Kira leafs through the book.

KIRA. Alice… I just wanted to ask you – have we met before?

ALICE. Perhaps. I don’t know. Maybe at Andrei’s house?

KIRA. I’ve never been to Professor Koltsov’s. But your face seems familiar.

ALICE. It’s just a very ordinary face. You’ll see ones like it everywhere.

KOLTSOV. Kira, please begin.

KIRA. (Leafing through the book.) I haven’t found an excerpt yet… Ah, here we go.

KOLTSOV. In that case, I’m starting the clock. (Turns on an electronic clock.)

KIRA. (Reading, seeming to address Koltsov instead of the “student”.)

You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,

Such as I am. Though for myself alone

I would not be ambitious in my wish

To wish myself much better, yet for you,

I would be trebled twenty times myself,

A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich,

That only to stand high in your account,

I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,

Exceed account. But the full sum of me

Is sum of something; which, to term in gross,

Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractic’d,

Happy in this, she is not yet so old

But she may learn; happier than this,

She is not bred so dull but she can learn;

Happiest of all, is that her gentle spirit

Commits itself to yours to be directed,

As from her lord, her governor, her king.

Myself, and what is mine, to you and yours

Is now converted. But now I was the lord

Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,

Queen o’er myself; and even now, but now,

This house, these servants, and this same myself

Are yours[1]

Puts down the book.

          That’s all.

KOLTSOV. (After a pause.) Very good. Carry on.

KIRA. (To Alice.) Listen carefully.

You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,

Such as I am.

ALICE. (With an unexpectedly resonant and expressive voice.)

You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,

Such as I am.

KIRA. (Surprised.) That was excellent.

          Though for myself alone

I would not be ambitious in my wish

To wish myself much better, yet for you,

I would be trebled twenty times myself…

ALICE. (Her voice has lost some of its confidence.)

          Though for myself alone

I would not be ambitious in my wish… in my wish…

To wish myself better…

KIRA. (With some satisfaction.) You made a mistake, Alice. Please pay attention.

Presses the button with a triumphant smile. The computer screen displays the number “20”. Alice does not react to the punishment.

          Let’s repeat.

Though for myself alone

I would not be ambitious in my wish

To wish myself much better, yet for you,

I would be trebled twenty times myself…

ALICE. (Repeating.)

          Yet for you,

I would be trebled twenty times myself

KIRA.

A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich,

That only to stand high in your account,

I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,

Exceed account.

ALICE.

A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich,

That… that only to increase in your account.

KIRA. Not “increase,” but “stand high”. “That only to stand high in your account”.

Presses the button. Computer screen shows 40 volts. Alice cringes.

          Does it hurt?

ALICE. I can handle it.

Pause.

KOLTSOV. Kira, why have you stopped? Please continue.

KIRA. (Becoming serious, focused.) Alice, I’m begging you – please pay attention. It’s not a very difficult text; it shouldn’t be that hard to memorize. (Reads slowly and clearly.)

But the full sum of me

Is sum of something; which, to term in gross,

Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractic’d

ALICE.

The full sum of me… But the full sum of me…

Is sum of something; which, to term simply…

Is an unlesson’d girl…

Kira presses the button after some hesitation. Alice shudders. Kira does too. Computer screen shows “60”.

KIRA. (Pauses, then proceeds guiltily.) Professor Koltsov, can we… end the experiment?

KOLTSOV. Why?

KIRA. I don’t like it.

KOLTSOV. What kind of a reason is that, Kira? Whether or not we like something in life, at work, in school, we still do it, because we must!  I, for example, read you boring lectures, you study them, Alice sits in that chair – we all do our part!

KIRA. But I still don’t like this experiment.

KOLTSOV. Kira, do you think me a good psychologist?

KIRA. Of course.

KOLTSOV. Do you think I would construct a useless experiment?

KIRA. No.

KOLTSOV. So trust me, and stop hesitating.

Kira, sighing, takes the book, but then puts it aside again.

          Why are you stopping?

KIRA. Your assistant is in pain.

KOLTSOV. Don’t pay her any attention. She volunteered to do this.

KIRA. How can I not pay attention to her suffering?

KOLTSOV. Kira, millions, if not billions, of children all over the world are subject to cruel punishments. Our duty is to find out whether such punishments can possibly do any good. Think about it – millions, against just one Alice. How can you think about the suffering of one person, when you can ease the suffering of many others, bringing benefit to all society? (Firmly.) Continue the experiment.

KIRA. (Unwillingly returns to the reading.)

Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractic’d,

Happy in this, she is not yet so old

But she may learn; happier than this,

She is not bred so dull but she can learn…

          Repeat.

ALICE.

Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’s, unpractic’d,

Happy in this, she is not yet so old

But she may learn… happier…

But happier, but I…

Can learn.

Kira presses the button. Alice cries out. The screen shows “80”. Kira closes the book.

KOLTSOV. What is it now, Kira?

The girl doesn’t answer.

          Please, continue.

KIRA. (Lowering your head.) I can’t.

KOLTSOV. You’ve studied with me, among other things, the psychology of education. Now is your chance to demonstrate what you’ve learned. This is, after all, a sort of exam, a test of your qualifications. You understand, don’t you?

KIRA. Yes.

KOLTSOV. Then continue.

Kira is silent.

          Kira, stop being so sensitive. We must be above emotion. We’re scientists.

KIRA. But not butchers.

KOLTSOV. (Drily.) Let’s not use such loud but empty words. People accused Pavlov and Pasteur of cruelty when they experimented on animals, but it was these scientists, not those who abused them, that worked for the benefit of all mankind.

KIRA. I’m sorry, I think I was being too harsh.

KOLTSOV. Not just harsh, but inappropriate. Please, don’t hide your professional helplessness behind morality. Test-pilots don’t just feel a slight pain, but sometimes even sacrifice their lives while testing various flying tombs, yet no one considers that an immoral profession. The craft of the soldier, gravedigger, butcher is unpleasant, but essential, and, therefore, moral. All things that are necessary to society are justified, my assistant’s duties included.

KIRA. It’s my duty I don’t like, not hers. Why should I press the button if I don’t want to?

KOLTSOV. So you believe that the moral thing to do would be to transfer that duty to someone else?

KIRA. I don’t believe anything.

KOLTSOV. Kira, I thought you were a diligent and able student. Unfortunately, you have disappointed me.

KIRA. (Barely audible.) And you me.

Koltsov pales.

KOLTSOV. If you remember, I objected to your participation in the experiment, but you insisted. How am I supposed to judge your conduct?

Pause.

KIRA. If this experiment is so important to you, then let me switch places with Alice.

KOLTSOV. (Surprised.) What do you mean?

KIRA. I’ll sit in the chair, and she’ll press the button.

Koltsov and Alice exchange looks.

KOLTSOV. No, that is absolutely out of the question.

KIRA. Why?

KOLTSOV. Among other things, you don’t have doctor’s approval.

KIRA. Neither does Alice.

KOLTSOV. I’m not going to have this discussion right now. Continue the lesson Kira, you have lost loads of time.

Kira wavers for a long while, then opens the book and slowly looks for the excerpt.

KIRA.

Happiest of all, is that her gentle spirit

Commits itself to yours to be directed,

As from her lord, her governor, her king.

Myself, and what is mine, to you and yours

Is now converted. But now I was the lord…

Her voice gets quieter until she goes completely silent.

KOLTSOV. What’s going on?

Kira silently closes the book.

          What’s wrong, Kira?

KIRA. (Guiltily.) I can’t do it.

KOLTSOV. (Drily.) Pity. You’ll be graduating soon. I was going to recommend you for an interesting job at a first-rate company, but now I see that you lack discipline. I’m afraid you will not be getting my recommendation.

Kira is silent.

          I believe you receive a scholarship  from the university?

KIRA. Yes. Since last year.

KOLTSOV. And how did you earn money before that?

KIRA. Working part-time as a waitress.

KOLTSOV. I cannot guarantee that you will continue to get your scholarship  .

Kira is silent.

          So will you go on with the experiment?

Kira is silent.

          Okay. You’re free to go.

Kira wanders toward the exit.

          Not there. Please use the other exit. You’re not to have contact with the next participant.

Kira starts heading to the other exit, but suddenly Michael bursts into the room. He is worried.

MICHAEL. Professor Koltsov!..

KOLTSOV. (Harshly, almost rudely.) What’s the matter, Michael? I strictly forbade you to come in here!

MICHAEL. I’m sorry, but…

KOLTSOV. No “buts”. Please leave the laboratory.

MICHAEL. I just wanted to let you know that there are journalists outside…

KOLTSOV. Who called them?

MICHAEL. I thought you did.

KOLTSOV. (Thinks for a moment.) Go on.

MICHAEL. Why didn’t you tell me and Kira that the university banned this experiment from being conducted?

KOLTSOV. Did the journalists tell you that?

MICHAEL. Yes. Are they mistaken?

KOLTSOV. No. But the ban pertains to me, not to you. For you, participation in experiments will have no administrative consequences.

MICHAEL. Are you sure?

KOLTSOV. Certainly. After all, you didn’t even know about the ban, nor about the experiment itself.

MICHAEL. But we know about it now.

KOLTSOV. I repeat… (Stops himself.) Well, if you’re afraid, then it’s not too late to back out. Return the money, and you’re free to go.

MICHAEL. (After some hesitation.) Don’t think I’m a coward. And really, I have nothing to fear. After all, I’m just following a professor’s orders.

KOLTSOV. Excellent.

ALICE. Did the reporters ask you anything?

MICHAEL. Yes. I told them what the experiment is all about. (Smiling.) Couldn’t resist the temptation of giving my very first interview. (Noticing that Koltsov’s face has darkened, nervously asks.) Did I do something wrong?

KOLTSOV. No, no. Everything is fine, Michael. Generally speaking, I never speak to the press about unfinished work, but it’s all right. Go, my friend, and continue to entertain the reporters. Tomorrow, you’ll be a hero. (Escorts Michael to the door.) I will invite you in soon.

Exit Michael. Koltsov locks the door behind him.

KIRA. I wonder who called the reporters? The administration?

KOLTSOV. Probably. Maybe they were pressured from above.

KIRA. To what end?

ALICE. To obstruct, to frighten – what does it matter, Kira? For you, the experiment is over.

KIRA. What will happen to you?

KOLTSOV. Nothing terrible. At worst, they’ll fire me.

KIRA. So you’ll continue the experiment with Michael?

KOLTSOV. Of course.

KIRA. Wasn’t the lesson with me enough?

KOLTSOV. You ask too many questions, Kira. Good day.

KIRA. Can I stay and watch?

KOLTSOV. Why?

KIRA. Perhaps I misunderstood something and, watching Michael’s lesson, I can learn my mistake?

KOLTSOV. Your presence is absolutely out of the question.

KIRA. Why?

KOLTSOV. You will embarrass Michael, disturb his concentration.

KIRA. I can sit behind the screen.

KOLTSOV. To be honest, you will be bothering me as well.

KIRA. Why? I’ll sit quietly.

KOLTSOV. I don’t know why you’re being so adamant about this.

KIRA. You see, I didn’t live up to your expectations…

KOLTSOV. So what?

KIRA. So I’d like to know how others conduct the experiment.

KOLTSOV. It’s not ethical in relation to Michael. How would you feel if you found out that he was eavesdropping behind a screen while you were having an intimate conversation with your doctor?

KIRA. That’s totally different. He won’t be talking about himself, but conducting a lesson. I’m interested to see how he does it.

KOLTSOV. That’s right, he’s your fiancé… (Thinks.) Okay, fine, stay. But with one condition: you must promise me not to interfere with the experiment.

KIRA. Of course.

KOLTSOV. Sit here. Michael won’t see you, but you’ll see and hear everything.

KIRA. (Sits behind the screen.) Thank you.

KOLTSOV. But remember – you’re not here. Promise?

KIRA. I give you my word.

KOLTSOV. Okay…

ALICE. (Tiredly.) Andrei, hand me my purse please.

Koltsov gives her the purse. Alice takes out a pill and swallows it with some water.

KOLTSOV. (Anxiously.) You don’t look well… perhaps we’ll wrap up for the day?

ALICE. I’m okay.

KOLTSOV. Honestly?

ALICE. (Smiling.) Honestly.

KOLTSOV. Then let’s take a short break.

Takes off the restraints and electrodes, freeing Alice. She gets up, takes several steps, then sits back down.

          Perhaps we should wrap up after all?

ALICE. No, let’s finish it. This is the last one, right?

KOLTSOV. Yes. The very last one.

ALICE. Good. I just need to rest a little.

KOLTSOV. Then we’ll just take a break.

 

End of Act I.

During intermission, the actors don’t need to leave the stage: Koltsov is calmly talking with Alice. Kira sits in her corner.

 

 

 

Act II

 

KOLTSOV. (To Alice.) Are you rested? Perhaps we can begin?

Alice reluctantly sits down in the “electric chair”. Koltsov ties her down, attaches the electrodes, resets the computer to “0”, looks around the room, sees Kira’s forgotten purse and hands it to her.

          I will remind you once again – if you break your promise…

KIRA. That won’t happen.

KOLTSOV. Very good. (Goes to the door to summon Michael.) Come in!

MICHAEL. (Entering, looks around the room.) Where’s Kira?

KOLTSOV. She left.

MICHAEL. Without waiting for me? How did her lesson go?

KOLTSOV. (Shortly.) Splendidly.

MICHAEL. I had no doubt. Kira is a born educator. I should know – she helps me study for exams. (Happily.) Well, Alice, I trust you were an excellent student?

KOLTSOV. Get to the task at hand, Michael.

MICHAEL. I’m ready.

KOLTSOV. You already know the rules of the experiment. Here’s a book of Shakespeare. Pick an excerpt and start teaching. Remember: it is very important for you to teach the lesson quickly and well. Commit yourself fully to this task.

MICHAEL. I hope I can handle it. (Leafing through the book, to Alice.) Well, what’ll it be? (Winking.) Perhaps you remember something from school? Whisper it to me…

ALICE. Sadly, nothing. We only ever learned Hamlet’s monologue, and all I remember is the “to be or not to be” line.

MICHAEL. In that case I’ll pick something at random. Is that okay?

ALICE. As you wish.

MICHAEL. (Opening the book at random.) Here we go… are you ready?

ALICE. Yes.

MICHAEL. Listen and repeat.

KOLTSOV. I’m turning on the clock.

MICHAEL. (Reading.)

That’s not my fear, my meed hath got me fame: [2]

I have not stopp’d mine ears to their demands…

ALICE. (Repeating.)

That’s not my fear, my meed hath got me fame:

I have not stopp’d mine ears to their demands…

MICHAEL. (Joyfully.) Excellent! Let’s go on.

Nor posted off their suits with slow delays;

My pity hath been balm to heal their wounds,

ALICE.

Nor posted off their suits with slow delays;

My pity was a balm to heal their wounds,

Michael presses the button. The computer screen shows “20”. Alice’s only reaction to the weak shock is to correct her mistake.

          I apologize. “My pity hath been…”

MICHAEL. “…balm to heal their wounds”.

ALICE. “My pity hath been balm to heal their wounds.”

MICHAEL. Please repeat the last two lines.

ALICE.

Nor posted off their suits with slow delays;

My pity was a balm to heal their wounds,

Electric shock. 40 volts. Alice cringes.

          Did I make a mistake?

MICHAEL. (Slightly irritated.) Hath been, not was a balm. Am I reading too quickly or not clearly enough?

ALICE. No, you’re reading well. I guess I just can’t concentrate.

MICHAEL. Perhaps we should repeat the last four lines before going further? Then we’ll only have sixteen lines left.

ALICE. I think that would be good.

MICHAEL. Have you memorized them?

ALICE. I think so.

That’s not my fear, my meed hath got me fame:

I have not stopp’d mine ears to their demands…

Gets silent, then says guiltily.

          The third line flew right out of my head.

MICHAEL. Try to remember it. I don’t want to have to punish such a beautiful lady.

KOLTSOV. Michael, punishing the student for her errors is mandatory, whether or not you want to do so. Alice stumbled, so you must punish her.

Michael, wavering, presses the button. Alice shudders. The computer screen shows “60”. Koltsov continues.

          Also, stop having side conversations. They distract the student and make the learning process more difficult. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking; you may not finish in time.

MICHAEL. (Becoming serious.) I’m going to read the text to you again, starting from the third line.

Nor posted off their suits with slow delays;

My pity hath been balm to heal their wounds,

ALICE.

Nor posted off their suits with slow delays;

My pity hath been balm to help their wounds,

Electric shock. Alice shrieks.

MICHAEL. I’m sorry… This is truly very unpleasant for me… But you confused “heal” with “help”.

ALICE. Don’t apologize, this is your duty. It’s my own fault for being so forgetful.

MICHAEL. Shall we repeat these lines?

ALICE. I think we’d better go on.

MICHAEL.

My mildness hath allay’d their swelling griefs,

My mercy dried their water-flowing tears;

ALICE.

My mildness hath allay’d their swelling griefs,

Mercy dried their… dried their…

Shock. 100 volts. Alice shakes and yells loudly.

MICHAEL. (Flustered.) Professor Koltsov, I don’t know if I should continue the experiment. She’s a woman, after all…

KOLTSOV. (Sharply.) She’s not a woman, but my paid assistant, hired to do this job in exchange for a large sum of money. You should focus instead on the quality of your teaching. You have always been a good student, so continue to be so. Force your student to concentrate. Surely you can do that?

MICHAEL. (To Alice, annoyed.) I’ll read it again.

My mildness hath allay’d their swelling griefs,

My mercy dried their water-flowing tears…

ALICE.

My mildness hath allay’d their swelling griefs,

My mercy…

Goes silent, but, remembering the words with effort, finishes the line.

…dried their water-flowing tears.

MICHAEL. (Relieved.) That was great, Alice. We’re six lines in. Just four more lines, and we’re halfway there.

I have not been desirous of their wealth,

Nor much oppress’d them with great subsidies,

ALICE.

I have not been desirous of their wealth,

Nor have oppress’d them…

Button. 120 volts. Alice whimpers loudly.

MICHAEL. (Repeats with irritation.)

I have not been desirous of their wealth,

Nor much oppress’d – do you understand, Alice? “nor much, not nor have,oppress’d them with great subsidies.

          Is it really so difficult to memorize two lines?

ALICE.

Nor much oppress’d them…

MICHAEL. No, start with the preceding line.

ALICE.

I have desired… I have not desired…

I have been…

(Pleadingly.) I got mixed up.

Electric shock. 140 volts. Alice screams, trying to break free.

MICHAEL. I have not been desirous of their wealth…

(Irritated.) Well, repeat that!

ALICE. (Shuddering with her whole body.) I have not been…

I can’t remember anything. Please stop the lesson.

MICHAEL. Why?

ALICE. I’m afraid.

MICHAEL. (Quietly, to the professor.) Perhaps we really should stop?

KOLTSOV. Without having taught her even ten lines? I expected more from you.

MICHAEL. But she’s uncomfortable.

KOLTSOV. So you admit your failure?

MICHAEL. Why is it my failure? She’s the one that wants to stop, not me.

KOLTSOV. (Conspiratorially.) Then don’t listen to her.

MICHAEL. What?

KOLTSOV. Don’t you know students and their little tricks? They’re always trying to garner pity from their teacher. But you must be tough, you must learn to subjugate them to your will. Do you have a strong character?

MICHAEL. I do have a strong character, but…

KOLTSOV. So then finish the lesson. It’s necessary for science, for society, for you. Moreover, Michael, you don’t have a choice. Your father is, I believe, a businessman?

MICHAEL. Yes, but what does that have to do with…

KOLTSOV. And you will, I assume, be following in his footsteps?

MICHAEL. Most likely.

KOLTSOV. Then I don’t need to explain to you the nature of agreements and contracts. You and I made an agreement, didn’t we? You received payment in exchange for your participation in the experiment.

MICHAEL. I can return it.

KOLTSOV. No, my friend, that’s not how it works. An agreement is worth more than money. Otherwise you risk your reputation. You understand. Now return to the lesson, you’re getting distracted way too much. I’m certain that, while we were talking, your student already forgot what little you taught her. Get to it, Michael! I’m not asking for needless cruelty – just finish the lesson, that’s all! You don’t want to graduate last in the class, do you?

MICHAEL. (Returns to the wired chair.) Speaking of which… You said Kira was able to teach Alice the lesson, right?

KOLTSOV. Of course.

MICHAEL. And quickly?

KOLTSOV. Don’t think about her right now, think of yourself.

MICHAEL. (Sitting down next to the chair, to Alice.) I’m sorry. Professor Koltsov says that I can’t stop the lesson.

Alice is silent. Michael opens the book.

          Where did we leave off?

ALICE. Let’s start from the beginning.

MICHAEL. (Glancing at the clock.) But then we’ll never finish.

ALICE. Still, we should go over the first part again. You were speaking with the professor so long… I think I forgot everything.

MICHAEL. (Displeased.) Okay, fine. (Reads.)

That’s not my fear…

Alice is silent. Michael repeats.

That’s not my fear…

          Well?

That’s not my fear…!

ALICE. (Taking control of herself, continues.)

          …my meed hath got me fame:

I have not stopp’d mine ears to their demands…

Stops.

MICHAEL.

Nor posted off their suits with slow delays;

My pity hath been balm to heal their wounds,

ALICE.

Nor posted off their suits with slow delays;

My pity hath been balm to help their wounds.

Michael reaches his hand out to the button.

          Don’t press it! Please, I beg you, don’t press it! (Tries to remember.)

My pity hath been…

Stops.

MICHAEL. Is it really so hard to remember one simple word?

ALICE. Forgive me… I can only think about the button… Don’t press it!

MICHAEL. You’re ruining my lesson with your idle talk and forgetfulness. Get a hold of yourself already! If not for your own sake, then for mine! I don’t want to look like a bad teacher!

ALICE. (Without taking her eyes off Michael’s hand, resting on the button.) “My pity…” I beg you, don’t!

MICHAEL. Alice, I’m begging you as well – no more unnecessary talk, just recite the text!

ALICE.

My pity… was a balm… to heal their wounds.

Michael presses the button. 160 volts. Alice, yelling loudly, tries to escape the chair.

MICHAEL.

My pity hath been balm to heal their wounds.

ALICE. (Barely audible, submissively.) “Their wounds…”

MICHAEL.

My mildness hath allay’d their swelling griefs,

My mercy dried their water-flowing tears;

Noticing that Alice is not listening.

          Did you hear me?

ALICE. I’m sorry. Can you please repeat that?

MICHAEL. (Gritting his teeth.) Are you mocking me? I’ve repeated it ten times already!

ALICE. If I’m at fault, then punish me.

Michael reaches his hand toward the button.

          No! (Getting a hold of herself.)

My mildness hath… allay’d their swelling griefs,

My mercy… hath dried…

          I’m begging you – please stop the lesson. I can’t do this anymore.

MICHAEL. No. We’re going to finish what we started.

Presses the button. 180 volts. Alice screams for a long time and thrashes in the chair. Michael repeats stubbornly.

I have not been desirous of their wealth…

ALICE.

I have not… desired their…

MICHAEL. I don’t get it – are you doing this on purpose?

Presses the button. 200 volts. Alice shakes as though having a seizure.

ALICE. Let me go! Can’t you see – I can’t… I have a bad heart!

MICHAEL. You easily say a lot of useless words, but for some reason you can’t just repeat what I say. I’ll teach you to be stubborn!

Presses the button. 220 volts. Alice whimpers.

          And now, listen and repeat:

I have not been desirous of their wealth…

ALICE. (Breathing heavily and not taking her eyes off the button.)

I have not been… I have not been…

          (Screaming loudly.) Ah!

MICHAEL. (Harshly.) Why are you yelling? I haven’t even pressed the button!

ALICE. (Out of breath.) But you… you were reaching towards it.

Michael. Fine. I’ll take my hand away. Speak.

ALICE. I have not been desirous of their wealth…

MICHAEL. Finally.

Nor much oppress’d them with great subsidies,

Nor forward of revenge, though they much err’d.

ALICE. Nor have oppress’d them…

MICHAEL. (Beside himself.) Again with the “nor have”! “Nor much, nor much”!

ALICE. (Frightened.) Don’t do it!

MICHAEL. (Maliciously.) I must.

Button. 240 volts. Alice seizes. Kira, pale, horrified and in tears, watches the lesson.

          Well then? Are we ever going to learn some discipline?

Nor much oppress’d them with great subsidies,

          Well?

Alice whimpers. Michael presses the button. Alice shudders and yells loudly.

KIRA. (Leaping from behind the screen.) Stop it! Stop it right now!

Michael reacts to Kira’s presence with little interest. He is completely absorbed in his failing lesson.

MICHAEL. Hang on Kira… Wait a second… (To Alice.) Are we ever going to do this, or are you just going to sit there and whine? Come on, repeat:

Nor forward of revenge, though they much err’d

          (Insanely.) Repeat, now!

Presses the button. 280 volts. Alice screams, whimpers, shudders.

KIRA. Michael, you’ve lost your mind! Stop it!

MICHAEL. (Stubbornly.) Repeat after me:

Nor much oppress’d them with great subsidies…

KIRA. Professor Koltsov, stop him! Can’t you see he’s out of his mind?

KOLTSOV. Don’t interfere! You promised!

MICHAEL.

Nor forward of revenge, though they much err’d

KIRA. But this isn’t an experiment, it’s torture! Michael, snap out of it! That’s a defenseless, bound person in front of you! A woman!

MICHAEL. (Sharply.) Don’t bother me, Kira! (To Alice.) I’m going to ask you again, repeat –

Nor much oppress’d them with great subsidies…

KIRA. Professor Koltsov!

KOLTSOV. Get out of here!

KIRA. Professor Koltsov, which one of us is out of his mind – him, you? Or me? Please end this nightmare!

KOLTSOV. I can’t. The experiment is still in progress.

KIRA. Then I’ll do it myself.

Kira rushes at Michael, whose hand is once again reaching towards the button, and tries to get him away from the remote control. Michael harshly pushes her away. Kira falls to the floor. Koltsov starts to help her get up, but stops himself. Kira looks at the men, horrified.

          What are you – animals?

MICHAEL. (To Alice.)

Nor much oppress’d them with great subsidies…

KIRA. Professor Koltsov, I respected you! I… adored you! You were my ideal, you were… what happened to you?

Koltsov wants to say something, but stays silent. Kira continues.

          You… love her. Isn’t that enough to make you stop this? Is science really more important to you? Or is this just your little plan to become famous? This is disgusting! You want to experiment? Get in the chair yourself!

MICHAEL. (To Alice.)

Nor much oppress’d them with great subsidies…

Alice whimpers. Michael reaches towards the button. Kira tries to leap at him again, but Koltsov stops her.

KIRA. Let me go! Let me go, I said! Michael, get away from the chair! You sadist! (To Koltsov.) And you… you’re even worse.

MICHAEL. (Gets red, eyes become bloodshot, voice is hoarse.) “Nor much oppress’d…” Won’t do it? Then take that!

Presses the button over and over again. The computer screen repeatedly flashes the number “300”. Alice screams loudly, whimpers, shudders, tries to resist the ties binding her.

          Take that… And that… And that…

KIRA. (With renewed vigor tries to escape Koltsov’s grasp.) Let me go! He’s going to kill her! Help! Somebody please! Help!

Alice stops yelling and goes limp. Michael, pressing the button yet again out of habit, stops and looks at Alice, flustered. The sudden silence seems especially frightening.

MICHAEL. Hey, what’s wrong with you?

Alice doesn’t respond.

          Alice!

No one speaks. Michael looks around the room in a daze, trying to figure out where he is and what’s going on. Koltsov lets Kira go. Silence. Michael looks at his supervisor with alarm.

          Professor Koltsov, what’s wrong with her?

KOLTSOV. I don’t know.

Walks over to Alice, trying to feel her pulse, lets go of her hand; she is still limp.

MICHAEL. Is there a pulse?

Koltsov shakes his head.

KIRA. (In horror.) Michael, you killed her?

MICHAEL. I didn’t mean to…

KIRA. What does it matter if you meant to or not! Murderer! (Rushes to the wired chair and tries to get Alice to come to.)

MICHAEL. Kira, it’s not my fault…

KOLTSOV. But you’re the one who pressed the button.

MICHAEL. How was I supposed to know that this would happen? You didn’t warn me.

KOLTSOV. I didn’t think this would happen either.

MICHAEL. I was just following your orders.

KOLTSOV. I had nothing to do with this.

MICHAEL. What do you mean? This is your experiment!

KOLTSOV. Don’t try to pin this on me.

MICHAEL. And don’t try to pin this on me. This is your fault!

KOLTSOV. I didn’t torture anyone.

MICHAEL. You made me do it.

KOLTSOV. That is not true. You volunteered to participate in the experiment.

MICHAEL. (Stubbornly.) No, you made me.

KOLTSOV. Does this mean you aren’t responsible for the outcome?

KIRA. (Wets Alice’s face and temples with a damp towel.) Stop arguing! You’re both murderers! And so am I! Why are you just standing there? Get a doctor! Where’s the phone? Quickly!

Michael looks at his victim, startled. Koltsov doesn’t make a move either. Kira rushes towards the exit, but is stopped by Alice’s calm voice.

ALICE. Kira, wait.

Kira turns and, with surprise, sees Alice – awake and without any visible signs of her previous suffering. Michael is also astonished by her sudden transformation.

KIRA. You… you’re okay?

ALICE. Please, dear, calm down, I was never hurt. (To Koltsov.) I’m sorry that I’ve broken character Andrei, but continuing this charade seemed too cruel. Especially since this is the last experiment.

KIRA. Maybe I should still call a doctor?

ALICE. Kira, darling, there’s no need. As you see, I’m perfectly fine. Just please untie me. The experiment is over.

MICHAEL. But you were just… I thought… Dear God, you terrified me! Do people really get over electrocution so quickly?

ALICE. There was no electrocution.

MICHAEL. (Dumbly.) Then what was it?

ALICE. Nothing. The button is only connected to the computer.

MICHAEL. And there was no electric shock?

ALICE. No.

MICHAEL. That can’t be. You were screaming, shuddering… You got pale…

ALICE. If you don’t believe me, try pressing the button.

Michael, looking at Alice in disbelief, slowly reaches a finger towards the button.

          Don’t be afraid!

MICHAEL. No, I’m done. (Takes hand away.)

Kira walks over to the remote control and resolutely presses the button. The computer screen displays the number “300”.

ALICE. (Smiling.) Now do you understand? Michael, please untie me.

MICHAEL. (With relief.) So it was all just a game?

ALICE. You can say that.

Michael unties Alice. Kira turns sharply towards Koltsov.

KIRA. What does this all mean?

KOLTSOV. (Coughing awkwardly.) You see… (Goes silent.)

ALICE. (Getting up from the chair.) Kira, my girl, don’t give Andrei… I mean, Professor Koltsov, such a fierce look. He didn’t do anything wrong.

KIRA. (Shifting her hostile gaze to Alice.) I’m sorry, but who are you? Or is that a tactless question? Are you really the professor’s assistant?

ALICE. Not quite.

KIRA. Then who are you?

ALICE. (Grinning slyly.) Who am I?

…an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractic’d,

Happy in this, she is not yet so old

But she may learn; happier than this,

She is not bred so dull but she can learn…

          Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene II.

KIRA. (Pale with anger.) Now I remember where I’ve seen you before. You’re an actress.

MICHAEL. An actress?!

KIRA. How did I not recognize you before?

ALICE. I must look quite a bit better on stage.

KIRA. Certainly. Here you look disgusting.

KOLTSOV. Kira, don’t get carried away. Alice is an old friend of mine.

KIRA. Congratulations. You’ve both played a cruel and stupid joke on us. I’m sure it was hilarious for you!

KOLTSOV. I assure you, Kira, there was nothing funny about it.

MICHAEL. Everything ended okay, and now you’re all upset. It’s like you’re disappointed that the electric shock wasn’t real.

KIRA. If I were you Michael, I would sit quietly and try to seem invisible. You’ve shown enough of yourself today.

ALICE. Kira, please forgive us.

KIRA. I don’t need any apologies from you. I’m leaving, but would first like to say that I hate you, I hate your voice, I hate your smirk and every move you make. You’re a clown, there’s nothing sacred for you, you… can celebrate now!

Instead of leaving, Kira sits down in a chair and starts to cry.

MICHAEL. (Goes to Kira with hesitation and puts his hand on her shoulder.) Come on… let’s go.

KIRA. Leave me alone, I hate you!

MICHAEL. You hate everyone right now. Relax.

KOLTSOV. (To Alice.) What do we do now?

ALICE. Tell them everything.

KOLTSOV. You think so?

ALICE. (To Michael.) Leave her. (Gets a glass of water for Kira, pats her on the head.) Kira, darling…

KIRA. (Through her tears.) I’ve said some stupid things… Forgive me.

ALICE. Nonsense. Drink some water while I tell you a secret.

KIRA. What secret?

ALICE. Drink first.

Kira drinks the water.

          Now listen. Some time earlier, you said something to poor Koltsov that was meant to be an insult, but I took it as a compliment. But (leans down and whispers in Kira’s ear.) I’m not Andrei’s lover, have never been, and, apparently, never will be.

KIRA. Why are you telling me this now?

ALICE. We’re just old friends. And I completely approve of your choice.

KIRA. (Embarrassed.) What choice?

ALICE. Come on Kira… don’t play coy with me. When it comes to this kind of psychology, I understand more than your professor. (Loudly.) And now, Andrei, explain the experiment to your students.

KOLTSOV. Before I do so, I must apologize for hiding the true nature of this exercise from you. But I didn’t have a choice.

MICHAEL. I thought that the point of the experiment was to explore educational methods?

KOLTSOV. No, certainly not.

KIRA. Then what was it all about?

KOLTSOV. There is no short answer to that question. So I’ll start from the beginning. Please be patient. (Motions to the chairs.) Sit down.

Everyone sits.

          Barbarism and cruelty have always existed, but recently they have expanded on a massive scale. Meaningless wars, terrorism, execution of hostages, religious conflict, international enmity, genocide, torture, rape, murder – we all see and experience this every day. The world has become too volatile.

MICHAEL. Now I understand. Your experiment – it’s an exploration of cruelty.

KOLTSOV. Not quite.

MICHAEL. Then what is it?

KOLTSOV. Don’t get ahead of yourself… The question is – what kind of people perpetrate all these acts? Who puts bombs in cars and airplanes, destroys buses filled with children, shoots women, aims a gun at a politician?

MICHAEL. Sadists, maniacs, thugs.

KOLTSOV. Not at all. In most cases – respectable citizens, honest, obedient, quiet. Not infrequently they love their wives and children, pity animals, believe in God and listen to Mozart.

KIRA. Then how do you reconcile all this?

KOLTSOV. Easily. Moreover, these criminals don’t even feel the pangs of a guilty conscience. They were, you see, only following orders – this is their excuse. So I designed a series of exercises that I called “An Experiment in Obedience”.

KIRA. “Obedience”? Why “Obedience” and not “Cruelty”?

KOLTSOV. The real reason for the experiment is to figure out to what lengths a person will go to torture a victim at the order of a supervisor, and, if he refuses, to see at what stage he will do so.

MICHAEL. So that’s it…

KIRA. That means you weren’t just observing the experiment, you were involved in it?

KOLTSOV. Unfortunately.

KIRA. (Sighing.) You seemed very energetic about it.

KOLTSOV. That’s the point. The methods of pressure were selected and developed prior to the experiment.

MICHAEL. Did you really need to think all that through beforehand?

KOLTSOV. Of course. I selected typical, you can even say classic, methods that society uses to manipulate an individual. First, the open use of authority, a call to obedience and discipline. Secondly, the argument that these immoral actions – the torture of an innocent woman – will benefit science, society, humanity and so on. Then I evoke the feeling of indebtedness, remind the participant about our agreement, their payment and other similar things. Finally, I promise success in future professional endeavors in exchange for obedience and trouble in the case of disobedience. As you see, the methodology is fairly simple.

MICHAEL. (Grimly.) And effective.

KOLTSOV. In most cases, I have not had to use all these tricks. My presence and a few words, spoken in a reassuring tone, were enough to take the responsibility away from the participants.

MICHAEL. So then… I didn’t show myself in the best light.

KOLTSOV. In all honesty, no you did not. But you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that the majority of people acted just as you did. It turns out, almost every one of us is capable of boundless cruelty.

KIRA. You’re joking!

KOLTSOV. Alice and I have conducted hundreds of tests. And not just here, but abroad as well. Two thirds of the test subjects calmly tortured a bound person.

KIRA. Two thirds?!

KOLTSOV. And in Germany, the quantity of absolutely obedient people turned out to be even higher – eighty five percent!

KIRA. That can’t be!

ALICE. It can, Kira, it can! So often, they would press the button with such indifferent passivity, sometimes with pleasure! It’s terrifying to think about!

Michael hangs his head.

KOLTSOV. The results are simply scandalous. The authorities are very displeased. That’s why the university administration banned this experiment.

KIRA. But why did you violate the ban?

KOLTSOV. I wasn’t going to involve my own students in this work at first. Why complicate my relationship with them?

ALICE. And you would’ve been right to do so.

Kolstov: However, upon finding out about the ban, I decided not to yield to any pressure out of principle and conduct the experiment with at least a pair of my own students.

MICHAEL. Research is that important to you?

KOLTSOV. (Sudden flare of anger.) Not research, damn it! Don’t you see the extent to which we have become overwhelmed by the cruelty and the slave-like submission to authority? Shouldn’t someone stand up and try to resist it? Otherwise the world will go mad!

ALICE. It’s already gone mad.

Pause.

MICHAEL. But why did you invite me to participate – Kira and me?

KOLTSOV. You mean you and Natasha? There was no specific reasoning behind it. I just wanted to pick healthy students from successful families, with no drug addictions, mental illnesses, criminal backgrounds and so on.

KIRA. So you believe that I do not satisfy these requirements?

KOLTSOV. (Protesting.) Kira…

KIRA. Then why did you so forcefully oppose my participation?

KOLTSOV. (After a short silence.) I had my reasons.

MICHAEL. What, then, does the experiment prove? That man is cruel by nature?

KOLTSOV. No. The issue isn’t cruelty, but rather the ease with which we submit to authority figures. When test subjects taught the lesson without my presence, they rarely acted sadistically. But when I, a person on whom they could transfer moral responsibility, was around, the butchers became indifferent to the screams of their victims! Moreover, I interviewed these “teachers” several days after the experiment, when they’d had time to reflect on their actions. Do you think any of them regretted what they did? Do you think they repented? Almost no one! They participated “in the name of science”, received their payment and forgot all about it!

KIRA. That’s impossible! I refuse to believe this.

KOLTSOV. Why? We are taught obedience from birth. At home, in school, in the army, at work – everywhere we are conditioned to believe and value the discipline to obey our elders, our bosses, the government.

MICHAEL. Are you against discipline?

KOLTSOV. Of course not. Without it society could not exist. But why don’t we learn that we must be humane and that no one but ourselves can carry the responsibility for our actions?

MICHAEL. So, if I go into the army or some such place, I can also… become… an executioner?

KOLTSOV. As can any one of us.

MICHAEL. I don’t believe it. But, at any rate, it’s good that I got this cruel lesson. If I am sent to fight, I’ll know to be wary.

KOLTSOV. That’s excellent, Michael, but you won’t only need this awareness in such extreme situations as serving in the army or at a concentration camp. It’s even harder to preserve your individuality in daily life. Don’t we tell ourselves every day that “I’m only doing what I am told” or “either way, these things aren’t up to me”? If you truly want to learn your lesson from this experiment, think, first of all, about how you act every day.

KIRA. Good advice for an obedient son.

MICHAEL. I don’t like your accusatory tone. I’d like to know at what point you cut the lesson off?

Kira doesn’t respond.

          Don’t want to admit it?

KOLTSOV. I think Kira is silent because she doesn’t want to upset you. She stopped at 80 volts.

MICHAEL. That’s it?

KOLTSOV. That’s it.

MICHAEL. You must not have pushed her very hard.

KOLTSOV. It’s quite the opposite. I was very insistent with Kira. After all, I had lots of ways to manipulate her, and very few ways to do so with you.

MICHAEL. What’s the difference between us? We’re both students in the same major…

KOLTSOV. (Interrupting briskly.) What’s the difference? Let’s see. Kira has no money other than her scholarship, while you are taken care of by your family’s assets. Kira really values the diploma she will receive when she graduates, but for you, it’ll merely be a wall decoration; Kira is thinking about her career plans, while you can easily work for your father; Kira loves her future profession, but you, though a good student, are fairly indifferent to science. Even so, Kira refused to respond to the pressure I was able to put on her.

ALICE. Andrei, it is possible that you do not know the main reason why Kira should have listened to you.

KOLTSOV. What?

ALICE. I’ll tell you about it later.

KOLTSOV. Anyway, Kira had a really hard time, but she disobeyed me – twice, in fact: aborting her lesson then trying to stop yours. And you… I didn’t even really need to issue you any commands. I said – “do it,” and you did.

MICHAEL. (Heated.) That’s not true! I also wanted to stop twice.

KOLTSOV. So what was standing in your way?

MICHAEL. You! I felt sorry for Alice right away, but you threw me off. How was I supposed to disobey you?

KOLTSOV.  How could you obey me?  No matter what I said, you always knew that you were torturing a woman.

MICHAEL. But you said yourself that she’s not a woman, but a paid assistant!

KOLTSOV. And did that make her stop suffering?

MICHAEL. (Agitated.) Stop trying to make me out to be some kind of sadist.

KOLTSOV. I’m not attempting to do anything of the kind.

MICHAEL. I’m not like that at all. I’m not cruel… I love my mom, my baby sister… I’ve never even hurt a cat. Kira, tell them…

Kira is silent.

KOLTSOV. Calm down, Michael. No one here doubts your kindness.

ALICE. Least of all me.

MICHAEL. Okay, so you made me fall into your trap and can laugh about it now. But I really am a kind person! I’m kind, do you hear me?

Everyone is silent. Michael is flustered.

          Kira, let’s get out of here.

Kira doesn’t react. Michael repeats, pleadingly.

          Kira!

Silence. Turning abruptly, Michael exits.

KOLTSOV. (Addressing Kira.) Maybe you should go after him, calm him down?

KIRA. No.

Pause.

KOLTSOV. Well then… thank you Kira. I will not delay you any longer.

KIRA. May I ask you a few more questions?

Alice gets up. She seems to be very tired.

ALICE. (With a barely noticeable but good natured smirk.) I will not interfere with your scientific discussions. (Opens her purse, takes out the pills.)

KOLTSOV. You’re leaving?

ALICE. It’s time. Can you please give me some water?

Koltsov hands Alice a glass, she swallows a pill.

KOLTSOV. Are you feeling ill again?

ALICE. It’s nothing. I’m just glad that the experiment is finally over.

KIRA. Are you tired?

ALICE. You might think this strange, but even pretending to be tortured is very difficult. Especially when you do it over the span of many months, hundreds of times, one after the other. But now it’s all behind me, thank God. Andrei, when your book comes out, don’t forget to send me a copy. (Shakes Kira’s hand.) I wish you all the best.

KIRA. Please forgive me.

ALICE. Kira, darling, for the way you conducted your lesson, I have already forgiven you all your past and future sins.

KOLTSOV. Wait, I’ll see you out.

ALICE. (Smiling.) No need.

KOLTSOV. I ruthlessly exploited you. I’m sorry.

ALICE. Don’t be silly. Good bye. (Exits.)

KOLTSOV. I’m very thankful for all she’s done for me. The work was hard, just awful, and, to be honest, I had nothing to pay her with. Alice walked away from a lucrative offer at a theatre and spent half a year in that chair instead… Were you going to ask me something?

KIRA. Tell me… Why didn’t you want me to participate in the experiment?

KOLTSOV. Why do you want to know?

KIRA. You said something about “having your reasons”…

KOLTSOV. There are at least two…

KIRA. Then tell me one of them.

KOLTSOV. In this experiment, I play the role of a heartless man, and I did not want you to see me that way…

KIRA. Do you really value my opinion of you so much?

KOLTSOV. Yes.

KIRA. Why?

KOLTSOV. Because.

KIRA. Then what about the second reason?

KOLTSOV. The second reason… (Goes silent.)

KIRA. Why did you stop?

KOLTSOV. You are seventeen years younger than me, you’re youthful, you’re kind… And I would never in a million years permit myself to tell you the second reason, had it not been for those words you uttered… well… about… you remember?

KIRA. That I…

KOLTSOV. Yes… As an educator, I understand, of course… And yet your words gave me the courage to admit why I did not want to conduct this cruel experiment on you… (Goes silent again.)

KIRA. So why then?

KOLTSOV. (Takes her hand.) Because I think it impossible to test  a woman of whose good soul and intentions I am confident and  whom  I…  whom  I…

Michael bursts into the room. He is very agitated. Finding Kira and Koltsov completely absorbed in one another, he stops, at a complete loss.

          What’s wrong Michael?

MICHAEL. I’m not here to talk to you. Kira… (His voice shudders.) Kira…

KIRA. Michael, what’s wrong with you?

MICHAEL. Nothing. I’m sorry that I’ve come back. The reporters won’t let me leave. They surrounded me and started asking a bunch of questions…

KIRA. And you?

MICHAEL. What can I tell them? That I can be manipulated into any horrible act, even murder? I just yelled, “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!” Then I ran to you, but you… but you…

KOLTSOV. Calm down Michael.

MICHAEL. How can you tell me that? You provoked me into doing something so low, and now you’re telling me to calm down? Just forget it? As though nothing happened?

KOLTSOV. No, my advice to you is…

MICHAEL. (Furiously.) I don’t need any advice from you! Why don’t you think about yourself instead! Remember how proud you were! The wise professor manipulating an inexperienced student – what a great scientific achievement!

KOLTSOV. Michael!

MICHAEL. (Not listening.) Yes, I’m a sadist, but who brought me to that? You! Is it really okay to trample over other people’s souls for the sake of some experiment? You destroyed my belief in myself, you made me out to be a monster in Kira’s eyes. Manipulative, self-important blowhard, seducer of hysterical women – I hate you! (Grabs a chair and gets ready to throw it at Koltsov.)

KIRA. You’ve gone mad, stop it! (Tries to hold Michael back.)

MICHAEL. Don’t touch me!

KOLTSOV. (Harshly.) Michael, please pull yourself together.

Michael, going limp, puts down the chair. Tears run down his face. Kira pats his head.

MICHAEL. Kira, what am I supposed to do now? How do I live with myself?

KIRA. We’ll discuss it all later, but for now, stop beating yourself up, don’t think about it… everything will be okay…

MICHAEL. How can I not think about it? This morning, my world was calm, stable, comfortable… And now it’s all come crashing down.  How can I live with it?

 

End of Act II.

 

End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] William Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice,” in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974), 270.

[2] William Shakespeare, “The Third Part of Henry the Sixth,” in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974), 698.