18

My Friend Anastasia

In KAT'S living room (The living room has a couch, an armchair, and table, a little old fashioned. A chair sits near DSL. Above the mantle is a black and white photo in a frame. On the table is a shoebox. As the scene opens, no one is on stage. A car door slams, and we hear children laughing.)

ALEKSEY AND NATALYA

off stage

Great Grandmama, Great Grandmama. We're here.

KAT enters from stage left, slowly crossing

to stage right. She is an old woman, 100 years old.

KAT:

I'm coming, I'm coming.

NATALYA:

offstage

Open the door, Great Grandmama. It's cold outside.

ALEKSEY:

offstage

Not cold to Great Grandmama.

NATALYA:

offstage

Is too.

ALEKSEY:

offstage

Is not.

NATALYA:

offstage

Is too.

KAT has made it off stage to the door.

NATALYA and ALEKSEY run in. They are children, between the ages of 8 and 13.

ALEKSEY AND NATALYA:

Happy 100th Birthday, Great Grandmama! Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birth

KAT walks in smiling.

KAT:

All right. You'll have a chance to sing to me later. Come give your great Grandmama a hug.

ALEKSEY and NATALYA give her a hug, but very carefully.

KAT looks at them surprised, then laughs.

KAT:

I see Nikolas has told you to be careful around me. Just because I'm 100 doesn't mean I'm old and weak. I've just as much strength as I did when I was 10.

NICKY enter from SR

NICKY:

Happy Birthday, Grandmama.

ALEKSEY and NATALYA sit down on the couch.

KAT:

(sitting down next to the kids): Where's Sacha?

NICKY:

She'll be here. She's getting your cake.

KAT shakes her head.

KAT:

In my day, we used to bake cakes for our birthdays.

NICKY sits in the armchair.

NICKY:

In the old days? That's why I love coming to your house. Makes me feel like I'm in Russia again.

KAT (dreaming):

Makes me feel that way too. (We can see on her face that many sad things have happened there.)

NATALYA gets up and picks up the photo off the mantle.

NATALYA:

What's this? I've never seen this before. Is it new?

Shows it to KAT.

KAT:

No, it's very old. (voice shaking slightly) It's a picture of the last Romanov family of Russia.

ALEKSEY (confused):

Why do you have a picture of a Russian family in your living room? Do you still have friends there?

KAT:

They were no ordinary Russian family. They were the last Imperial Romanov family of Russia.

NATALYA:

Imperial?

NICKY:

Royal, honey.

NATALYA (eyes big):

Ooo.

KAT (a reminiscing look in her eye):

I was a friend of the family. A very good friend.

NATALYA:

What are their names?

NATALYA sits down next to her.

(As KAT says each person's name and a little about him or her, the character come out from SL and forms a living photograph.)

KAT:

The man in the middle (enter NIKOLAS) was Tsar Nikolas Romanov. Your father was named after him. The woman with the crown (enter ALEXANDRA) and pearls was Tsarina Alexandra Romanov. And this was (enter OLGA) is Olga, the Tsar's eldest daughter. Next to her (enter TATIANA) was Tatiana, the second eldest. Next in line (enter MARIA) was Maria, the third eldest. The young boy (enter ALEKSEY) was the future Tsar, Aleksey, who you were named after, Aleksey. (Kat rumples his hair and he smiles) He was a very sick boy. He had hemophilia, which means if you get a bump or bruise, you bleed very easily and you could die. And then, there's (enter ANASTASIA) Anastasia. She was my best friend.

ALEKSEY (astonished):

You knew all these people, Grandmama?

KAT:

Yes, my dear.

NATALYA:

Are they still alive?

KAT (softly):

No, Natalya, they were all killed.

ALEKSEY (pleading):

Grandmama, tell us about them. Please.

KAT (taking a deep breath):

All right.

KAT gets up and takes the shoebox off the table. She, then, goes and sits on the chair DSL.

NATALYA:

What's in the box?

KAT:

Something special.

ALEKSEY:

Open it!

KAT:

It's for later. (She closes her eyes for a second, then opens them) Now, to begin the story.

While KAT tells the story, the living room moves over to the right of the stage. Only the chairs where the family are sitting need to be present. On the left, the stage changes into a beach scene. The living room needs to be black, except for KAT, who is the narrator.

KAT:

I met the Romanov family in 1911 when I was 10 years old. My family was vacationing near the Imperial palace, Livadia. We had just moved back to Russia after living in England for 5 years. My brothers, Petya, Danya, and Fyodor and my sister, Helena, and I were all playing in the water of the Black Sea.

(All children enter in old-fashioned bathing suits. HELENA is on PETYA'S shoulders. FYODOR and DANYA are trying to splash EKATERINA, who is making a sandcastle.)

FYODOR:

Ekaterina, get in the water.

EKATERINA looks at him, sighs and rolls her eyes. She gets up and wades up to her ankles in the water.

EKATERINA:

I am in the water.

PETYA:

If you don't get in here and get wet, I'm going to come get you.

HELENA:

Come on, Ekaterina, the water's not that cold.

EKATERINA turns her back and starts to walk back to her sandcastle.

PETYA:

All right, Ekaterina, you leave me no choice.

PETYA puts HELENA down and starts to run after EKATERINA. EKATERINA looks back and starts to run. HELENA cheers. PETYA chases EKATERINA around in circles and then DANYA, FYODOR, and HELENA are running after her too. (Run up and down the aisles.) DANYA and FYODOR jump for EKATERINA'S feet, but fall. EKATERINA runs a little more, then sticks out her tongue. (DANYA, HELENA, FYODOR, and PETYA go to back of auditorium.) Up near the stage, EKATERINA looks uncomfortable, and a little scared. Behind her, on stage, a family (the ROMANOVS) are walking on the stage. The FOUR GIRLS are setting a blanket out and NIKOLAS is caring ALEKSEY. ALEXANDRA walks with a hamper. EKATERINA smiles and waves. ANASTASIA waves back. EKATERINA looks to back and shrugs.

KAT:

What had scared them? Was I too fast for them to catch me?

PETYA slowly comes towards the front of the stage, keeping his eyes down, as not to look at the family. He grabs EKATERINA and pulls her over a little ways.

PETYA:

Don't you know who those people are?

EKATERINA looks over her shoulder at the family.

EKATERINA:

They're an ordinary Russian family going out for an outing.

PETYA turns EKATERINA around so her back is facing the audience.

PETYA:

Look at them. Don't you recognize their faces?

EKATERINA looks, then turns around, shaking her head. PETYA'S eyes grow wide as in disbelief.

PETYA (looking around):

They are the Romanov family, the rulers of Russia.

EKATERINA'S mouth drops open.

KAT:

They were the Romanov family? The family I was so interested in? The family I told facts about to my brothers and sister? I hadn't recognized the Imperial family?

EKATERINA starts to cry. PETYA tries to pull her towards the back, but she breaks away and runs towards the opposite side of the stage, crying. She sits down on the side of the stage, crying.

Back to KAT's living room. The beach scene goes black.

ALEKSEY:

Great Grandmama, you walked away from the imperial family? How did you get to meet them?

KAT (with a smile):

I'm not finished with my story, darling. As I was saying, I took one last glance at . . .

The doorbell rings.

NICKY:

That will be Sacha.

He goes off stage right and when he comes back on, SACHA is with him.

KAT (getting up and giving SACHA a hug):

Sacha.

SACHA:

Happy Birthday, Grandmama.

NATALYA (impatiently):

Great Grandmama, get back to the story. We want to find out how you met them.

SACHA (sitting down on the couch):

Met who?

ALEKSEY:

The Imperial family.

SACHA:

Whose Imperial family?

NATALYA:

The last Romanov family of Russia.

SACHA:

Oh, yes. I remember learning about them in school. Such a tragedy.

NATALYA (looking a little scared):

Tragedy? What do you mean, Mom?

KAT:

Let's get back to the story.

Back to beach scene.

EKATERINA resumes building a sandcastle. ANASTASIA comes out SL and walks over to the castle. EKATERINA slowly looks up and when she sees who it is, her mouth drops. ANASTASIA giggles.

ANASTASIA:

Can I help you build your sandcastle?

EKATERINA licks her lips, and rubs them together.

EKATERINA:

Sure.

ANASTASIA sits down and they begin to build a sandcastle.

KAT:

Together we built a sandcastle the size of the Winter Palace.

ALEXANDRA (off stage): Anastasia, supper is ready.

The ROMANOV family moves on stage, sitting on the blanket and the hamper beside them.

ANASTASIA:

Would you like to eat supper with us?

EKATERINA:

I would love to.

They walk USL to the blanket. A large amount of food is on the blanket.

ANASTASIA:

This is Ekaterina Sobanova. Can she eat with us, Papa?

NIKOLAS:

If her parents say it's all right.

EKATERINA:

It's all right.

EKATERINA sits down on the sand.

ALEXANDRA:

You may sit on the blanket, dear.

EKATERINA shyly gets up and sits next to ANASTASIA. The OLDER GIRLS smile at her. They eat.

KAT:

I was handed more food than I could count. Some of the food I had never seen before. It was all very delicious.

The food goes back into the hamper. The family mimes talking as KAT talks.

KAT:

After supper, I had a chance to look at the family closely. Olga, the eldest, was 16. Next came Tatiana, who was 14. Then, Maria, who was 12. It was rumored that she was the prettiest sister in the family. I thought so too. The girls were called the Grand Duchesses, a title higher than Princess. They gave themselves the nickname OTMA. Aleksey was 7, and the Tsarevich of Russia, which means he is the future Tsar.

Alexandra was a beauty too. She was from Germany. Many people thought her to be cold and mean, but I thought her to be kind and gentle. Nikolas II had the most beautiful blue eyes. Romanov eyes, they called them.

NIKOLAS:

Ekaterina, we would like to meet your family.

EKATERINA looks to the back where her family is.

EKATERINA:

All right.

The ROMANOVS and EKATERINA get up. NIKOLAS is carrying ALEXEI. They walk up the aisles and back as EKATERINA'S FAMILY goes to sit on the blanket on stage.

EKATERINA opens her mouth, but the TSAR speaks. EKATERINA'S FAMILY looks up in awe.

NIKOLAS:

Excuse me for interrupting your meal, but the Tsarina and I wanted to meet the parents of the young lady.

PAPA (stuttering):

It is all right. (normal) My name is Duke Mikhail Sobinova and this is my wife, Irina. We recently came from England, but we were born here. My children were in school there. Petya is 17, Fyodor is 15, and Danya is 13. Ekaterina is 10, and Helena is 6.

HELENA:

Almost 7.

PAPA looks stunned and MAMA looks like she is going to faint. The TZAR and TZARINA laugh.

NIKOLAS puts ALEXEI next to HELENA and they play.

NIKOLAS:

My name is Nikolas and this is my wife, Alexandra. My daughters are Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. My little sailor here is Aleksey.

KAT:

Mama and Alexandra started to talk about raising children and comparing boys to girls while Papa and Nikolas talked about places in the world whose names were confusing. Anastasia and I went for a walk on the beach.

MAMA and ALEXANDRA are talking while PAPA and NIKOLAS are talking. OLGA and PETYA, TATIANA and FYODOR, and MARIA and DANYA are talking. EKATERINA and ANASTASIA walk across the front of the stage, looking for shells.

ANASTASIA:

Look, Ekaterina, here is one that is still alive.

ANASTASIA bends down and picks up a crab. EKATERINA and ANASTASIA look back at their family.

ANASTASIA (laughing):

I think Olga thinks Petya is handsome.

ANASTASIA puts down the crab.

EKATERINA:

I do too. Yuck.

ANASTASIA (walking again):

Where are you staying?

EKATERINA:

Staying? Oh, we are staying here for the summer. Then we are going to Novgorod, where Papa bought a house.

ANASTASIA:

We are living here too, but only for a short time. Papa has to get back to St. Petersburg.

(PAPA waves his arms in the air.)

EKATERINA:

I think we had better go back. Papa is trying to get our attention.

They walk back.

NIKOLAS (picking up ALEKSEY):

Children, it's time to go back to the palace. It was very nice talking to you. We hope to see you again.

The ROMANOVS walk off stage. ANASTASIA grabs a stick and writes in the ground.

ANASTASIA:

My address. (walking after her family) Write me every day.

EKATERINA:

I promise.

HELENA waves off stage, and the boys looked sad as the girls leave. They begin to gather their things.

MAMA:

Who would have thought I would have so much in common with the Tsarina?

PAPA:

The Tsar and I have been to many of the same places. It's a wonder we never passed each other on the streets. (looking at the boys) What did you talk to the Grand Duchesses about?

PETYA (blushing):

Just things.

They walk off stage, smiling.

Back to the living room. The beach scene now changes into a 1916 kitchen. MAMA is making dinner and has the mail next to her. She is still until lights are upon her.

ALEXEI:

Did you write Anastasia, Great Grandmama? Did you?

KAT (smiling):

Oh yes, dear. Many times.

NATALYA:

What did you talk about?

KAT (laughing slightly):

Girl things mostly. We talked about our first crushes and Anastasia would always ask questions about my brothers for her sisters. I, of course, did the same with my brothers. It was great fun.

NICKY (puzzled):

Grandmama, Papa never told me these stories. Did you tell them to him?

KAT:

No, Nicky. I didn't expect your father, Viktor to pass away so suddenly. Only now, when I know my time is near, do I dare venture into the painful memories of my Russian life. I want you to be able to pass on my history.

NATALYA:

Keep going, Great Grandmama. Did you meet them again?

KAT:

Yes, dear, I did. But I was much older. Nearly 15.

The 1916 kitchen.

MAMA:

Ekaterina, there is a letter for you.

EKATERINA (off stage):

Where is it from?

MAMA picks up letter.

MAMA:

St. Petersburg.

We hear a clatter and a door being slammed shut. EKATERINA runs in SR.

EKATERINA:

Anastasia!

MAMA hands her the letter and EKATERINA sits down at the table to read it.

ANASTASIA (voice only):

May 16, 1916, St. Petersburg, Russia. Peterhof Palace. Dear Ekaterina, How are you? My family and I are fine. My sisters want to know how your brothers are. I told them I am sure they are fine, but they wanted to be sure. Papa and Mama said it would be fine for you to visit this August. I can hardly wait. Please write and tell me when you will arrive so I can meet you. Aleksey is still the same. I don't know if Rasputin is helping him or not. Write again soon. Your best friend, Anastasia.

EKATERINA jumps up.

EKATERINA (jumping up and down):

Mama, Mama. She said I could come.

MAMA:

Oh, Ekaterina, how wonderful. I know how you've missed her. It will be good to see the whole family again, but I will have to talk to Papa. With the war, I don't know if it will be safe.

EKATERINA (pouting):

Mama, you promised.

MAMA:

Yes, I know. But that was before our country was fighting.

EKATERINA sighs and gets a piece of paper off the counter. She begins to write. ANASTASIA appears down SR, reading the letter.

EKATERINA:

June 2, 1916. Novgorod, Russia. Dear Anastasia, My family is fine. My brothers are fine too. My brothers want to know if your sisters are fine. I am getting tired of being the messenger of love. I wish they would write their own letters instead of cutting into mine. I will not be able to visit you in August. Mama and Papa are scared for me to visit you because of the war. I am sorry. I hope I will see you soon after the war is over. Your friend in sadness, Ekaterina.

ANASTASIA walks off.

KAT:

Anastasia wrote back as quick as she could.

EKATERINA is still at the table.

ANASTASIA (off stage):

Ekaterina, what is happening to the Russia we used to know? Papa is fighting in Mogilev and has taken Aleksey with him. Mama is worried about Papa and Aleksey and never smiles. Olga and Tatiana are working as Red Cross nurses at Catherine Palace. Mama converted some parts into a hospital. Maria and I are not allowed to help, for we are too young. But we made our own hospital. We play cards, write letters, and I even take pictures of the soldiers. I am so scared. I wish you could be here. Please write again soon. Your letters are my only comfort. Anastasia.

Back to living room. The kitchen now changes to a little town. There is a store right in front. People are around, standing still.

NATALYA:

Who is Rasputin, Great Grandmama?

KAT:

Rasputin was a monk who everyone believed had powers that could help stop Aleksey's bleeding. Anastasia had told me in a letter a few years back that Aleksey had hemophilia, but I was the only one in my family who knew. The people of Russia didn't like Rasputin and were beginning not to like the Imperial family.

ALEKSEY:

I thought you said you met them again.

KAT:

I did. I'm getting there.

The town. EKATERINA walks out, holding a sheet of paper.

EKATERINA:

December 16, 1916. Dear Ekaterina, We are going to be in Novgorod the same time as you and your family. Let us meet. I will meet you at the gate on January 24. Anastasia.

EKATERINA looks around for ANASTASIA. People move in and out.

ANASTASIA (running on):

Ekaterina!

They hug.

ANASTASIA:

Let's walk around and talk. It must be 6 years since the last time I saw you at Livadia. You have changed.

EKATERINA (laughing):

I have changed. You are no little girl anymore either.

They link arms and pretend to talk.

KAT:

Anastasia and I talked for almost 2 hours. Her Papa was fighting in Tobosk now, but Aleksey was home. He was doing quite badly. We had to hide from a guard, who was patrolling where we were walking. We had fun that day.

The church bells strike five.

ANASTASIA:

It is five already. I have to be getting back.

EKATERINA:

Will I ever see you again?

ANASTASIA:

I sure hope so. (She reaches into her coat and pulls out a piece of paper.) Here.

EKATERINA turns it over.

EKATERINA (astonished):

Your family portrait. But no one ever gets these.

ANASTASIA:

You are not just anyone. You are someone special to the Imperial family. (She pulls out a handkerchief and hands it to EKATERINA)

EKATERINA unwraps it. Inside is a wooden boat.

KAT:

Inside the handkerchief was a wooden boat Aleksey had whittled for me. On the handkerchief were the initials ANR. Anastasia Nikolaeivna Romanov.

ANASTASIA (giving EKATERINA a tight hug):

Remember me forever.

EKATERINA (a short laugh):

How could I forget you?

They both seem reluctant to end the hug, but finally ANASTASIA runs away. EKATERINA looks at the handkerchief, and goes in the same direction going home.

Back to living room.

KAT:

That was the last time I ever saw Anastasia. We wrote each other for a few more months until her father was forced to abdicate his throne. I never knew what happened to them until we found out that on July 17, 1918 that they had been brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks. My family and I cried for days over the loss of our good friends, and true to my word, I never did forget Anastasia or her family.

Her family looks sad. SACHA has been crying.

NATALYA:

But, Great Grandmama, what about the stories that Anastasia escaped?

KAT:

I don't believe it's true. Many people pretended to be Anastasia, the most famous being Anna Anderson. I went to see her, but it wasn't her. She did look and sound convincing, but she wasn't the Anastasia I knew.

I went back to Russia in 1965, just to see my homeland again. It was still beautiful. I saw one of the Palaces Anastasia and her family lived in. That was a trill, though sad. I was even present at the burial of the bones when they found them a few years back. My grandson, you Nicky, was named after Tsar Nikolas. My great grandson (looking at ALEKSEY) is named after the Tsar's son.

ALEXEI:

Grandmama, you said you'd tell us what was in the box.

KAT looks down at the box in her lap.

KAT (with her eyes closed):

Ah, yes. We mustn't forget the box. Inside are the letters Anastasia wrote me and the handkerchief and boat.

SACHA gasps.

SACHA:

You kept those? I thought they would be dust.

KAT (with a slight smile):

Oh no, dear. I would never let these precious memories go to dust.

KAT gently opens the box and peels back the tissue paper. She pulls out a stack of letters.

NATALYA (in awe):

Anastasia's letters.

KAT hands them to her. NATALYA looks at her in surprise.

NATALYA:

For me?

KAT nods and picks up the boat and gives it to ALEKSEY.

ALEKSEY (whispers):

Thank you, Great Grandmama.

KAT gets up and puts the picture in SACHA and NICKY'S hands.

KAT:

Take good care of them.

SACHA and NICKY begin to cry.

NICKY:

Why are you doing this, Grandmama?

KAT:

Nicky, I'm not going to be around much longer. I need to know that my family knows my history and will pass it on for generations along with the treasures.

NICKY (giving KAT a hug):

Oh, Grandmama.

NATALYA:

What happened to Anastasia's handkerchief?

KAT (pulling it out of the box):

That's one thing I'm keeping for myself. It looks the same as it did when Anastasia gave it to me. Embroidered with her initials on it. Plan and simple, like the Romanov family.

Her family begins to leave, slowly, as KAT begins to fall asleep. The sound of waves begins to fill the auditorium, along with sea gull crys. HELENA, PETYA, FYODOR, and DANYA come out slowly, beckoning KAT with their hands. From behind the chair in which KAT is asleep in, EKATERINA steps out, she waves to her family and then looks around, as if looking for someone. She smiles at someone off stage. ANASTASIA come skipping out. They grab hands and as the skip off, a voice says

ANASTASIA:

You never forgot me.

THE END