Khasye di yesoyme

[Khasye the Orphan Girl]


Act I. A hall in the home of Yoel Trachtenberg. As a servant girl cleans the room, he lets her know how ‘liberal’ he is, but his wife Freyde is less impressed; a few moments later, she dismisses the girl. Guests arrive, and the family sits down to play cards with them. Yoel’s son Vladimir, 25, mockingly reads aloud a letter from Freyde’s brother in-law, Mordkhe. His first wife died recently and whose second wife doesn’t get along with his daughter Khasye, so he has come to place her in a job at the Trachtenbergs’. Mordkhe and Khasye arrive. Yoel and company practically ignore them at first, leading Khasye to ask her father where their relatives are. When Vladimir mocks their small-town ways, she gives as good as she gets, saying that ‘Yuli’ and ‘Carolina’ (Vladimir’s sister) sound just as funny to her. She describes her village and the flowers there, and again chastises Vladimir for teasing her. It’s also clear from the outset that he lusts after her, prompting Khasye to remark, “Velvl, when you look at me, it’s just as if you’re touching me with your hand.” Mordkhe prepares to return home, but Freyde stops him and lays down the law to Khasye about the work she’ll have to do and how she is to address the family. Khasye pleads with Mordkhe to take her back home, but he reminds her that her mother in-law wouldn’t like that. Khasye replies, “Yes, I have no home, that’s true. I almost forgot…. When you have no mother, you have no home ... No home, none, without a mother…”

Act II. Early morning in the Trachtenbergs’ kitchen, 15 months later. Khasye is ironing, while Mordkhe is wrapping up another visit. He is frustrated that his in-laws have neither paid Khasye nor given him a horse--and he fears his wife Toltse’s reaction. While Khasye goes out to see him off, Freyde enters, annoyed that Khasye is not working. Vladimir enters, and when Freyde goes, he hides a broach in the oven and goes. Khasye enters, sees the broach, and puts it back. Carolina joins her, and explains how marriage works in the big city: her father is waiting for Mark to get his qualifications, and Mark is waiting for the dowry. Meanwhile, she is in love with a gentile, and meets him secretly. She tries to teach Khasye some Russian, but gets fed up when Khasye mixes up the grammar. Everyone piles work on her, and Mark comes in and embraces her. She pulls away. Carolina has seen this, comes in, pinches Khasye, goes. Yoel enters, and chats with her as he polishes his own shoes. Freyde enters and puts a stop to that. Carolina shouts that she can’t find her broach, and when Khasye doesn’t help look and keeps quiet, suspicion falls on her. Her things and pockets are searched, while Mark goes to get Mordkhe, since the theory is that Khasye gave the broach to him. Freyde and Carolinia tie Khasye up and are about to beat her, but Yoel and Vladimir stop this when Khasye starts screaming. Alone with Khasye, Vladimir tells her he doesn’t suspect her; she responds by getting the broach from the oven and giving it to him. He sheepishly goes, while Mordkhe is brought in. As they start to search his things, Yoel shouts that he found the broach lying under a newspaper. Freyde figures out that Vladimir put it there. Khasye is delighted, and does impressions of Mordkhe, Freyde, and Yoel as all laugh.

Act III. Later that night, in the same hall as in Act I. Vladimir is lying on the sofa, having returned from the theatre early. He tells Khasye he left early both to get away from his mother and to see Khasye. He also tells her that one former girlfriend was so in love with him that she tried to poison herself with the sulfur from matches when he dumped her, but her attempt failed because the dose was too low. He asks her to marry him--says he’ll marry a poor orphan just to spite his family. Mordkhe enters, his feet worn out from walking. Vladimir breaks into the closed larder to get him food, and says he’s going to marry Khasye. The rest of the family comes home, outraged at the disorder they find. Freyde dismisses Khasye, Vladimir says he’s going to marry her, and Khasye says he’s drunk and will change his mind tomorrow. Freyde scoffs at Khasye’s modest background, but Khasye has the last word, pointing out, “You don’t like my family? You descend from a great line, ha? Nu, what can I do if my mother, may she rest in peace, had the chutzpan to be your sister?” Rejecting Vladimir, she takes her father home, leaving the rest standing there, astonished.

Act IV. Dawn, about three years later in Khasye and Vladimir’s run-down lodgings. Khasye is at the table making socks, while on the floor hear her is the cradle where her baby is sleeping. Vladimir enters, drunk, after a night out. He has her move the cradle so the baby won’t disturb him, the first of several times when he will have Khasye move the cradle around as if it were a troublesome piece of baggage. He complains that she is not the fun-loving girl she used to be, but she replies that that’s not possible when there’s a baby to look after. He goes off to sleep; enter Mordkhe, who spent the night in the kitchen. Khasye tells Mordkhe how Vladimir’s family has completely severed contact with her and Vladimir; she borrows a few kopecks from him so she can go buy bread. Vladimir enters, and when Khasye comes back a few moments later, he says he wants her and the baby to go live with her father for a few months. She and Mordkhe are astonished, and she says that if Vladimir wants to end the marriage, he should just say so. Mark arrives, in response to a letter Vladimir sent his parents, strongly intimating that if they don’t give him money, he will shoot himself. The rest of the family soon arrives, Freyde and Carolina suggesting that Khasye put Vladimir up to his stunt. Mordkhe, who never liked Vladimir, makes an arrangement with Yoel that would compensate Mordkhe and Khasye if she lets Vladimir go, and pay handsomely upon the finalization of the divorce. When the others go out, Khasye gives her father money to buy matches, insisting that he buy bulk to get a better price. While she is alone, she ponders the grim possibilities ahead: either kill herself and her baby girl, or just herself. Ultimately, she chooses the latter, urging her father to look after the baby as the others watch her death scene in horror, and Vladimir cries that he always loved her.