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Travis Review

This is a comic-tragedy of a simpleton actor used more for his size than talent. He’s dying in a dilapidated room, mostly from heartbreak than from an specific illness. Shtchiptsov seems like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, a hulking man with simple thoughts. In this case wants to go home to Vyazma. Many friends from the acting troupe come to help and almost all of them prescribe castor oil along with something else. The worst remedy he’s given is by the hairdresser who bleeds/cups him with 20 suction cups. It’s a cringe worthy scene through 21st-century eyes, especially when the man tells Shtchiptsov “You needn’t trouble about payment. . . . I do it from sympathy.” I’m sure as a doctor, Chekhov knew how harmful the practice was as the actor never makes it out of bed from that point forward. Earlier, when he had gotten out of his bed, it was by remembering the violence he had reigned on people in the past including 33 managers, a poor horse, “two celebrated authors and one painter.” This excitement is contrasted to the next day when he laments about his life as an actor (another Chekhov theme, see In The Graveyard.)  “No wife nor children… My life has been wasted…” Overall this story seems longer than it needed to be. There are points that are funny, but ultimately this is a dark, sad story and like Shtchiptsov, ultimately forgettable.

Rating: 5

Steve Review:

Today we meet Shtchiptsov, an actor better known for his physical strength than his talent, who during a quarrel with his manager felt “as though something had snapped in his chest.”  Leaving abruptly he would spend the rest of the story (and his life) attempting to recover in his hotel room while receiving visitors.  It is not clear what the initial “snap” may have been.  Although rare, I considered carotid artery dissection especially given his stroke-like difficulty (or was it reluctance?) to speak during the rest of the story.  However this is generally described as a “ripping” or “tearing” sensation in the neck and not a snapping sensation in the chest.  The more benign explanation would have been costochondritis but this wouldn’t explain his ultimate demise.  The most likely diagnosis would be a heart attack.  Heart attack symptoms are often associated with an “impending sense of doom” which would also explain Shtchiptsov’s mood for the remainder of the story.  The numerous guests all take their turns cheering him up and treating him with home remedies that include plenty of castor oil and even a round of cupping.  I considered the effects of the castor oil on his ultimate demise but generally speaking the laxative effect would be unlikely, by itself, to cause death but may have exacerbated an underlying heart issue.  None of the treatments matter to poor Shtchiptsov.  He longs to return to his boyhood home of Vyazma, which is apparently a thousand miles away, where he may die close to his best memories.  He regrets the life of an actor and his previous abusive bullying.  His last words, addressed to the comic Semyon, are “My life has been wasted, Seymon! Oh, to be in Vyazma!”  We have heard the sentiment of the “wasted life” of actors in the past from Chekhov and it leads me to believe that he had little tolerance or appreciation for their lifestyle.  The ending was abrupt, reminiscent of a Brothers Grimm tale, but nevertheless expected based on the title. Overall, I agree with Travis.  The story was 1000 words longer than necessary and ultimately forgettable.

Rating:  4