The play opens in the cluttered basement workshop of Comrade Chudakov. He and Foskin busy themselves with blueprints and scientific equipment. Velosipedkin enters and teasingly asks if the inventor Chudakov has yet to change the course of the river Volga. Chudakov responds by advising Velosipedkin to throw away his watch, explaining that he has invented a machine to travel across time. Velosipedkin and Foskin speculate about how to make money with such a device.
As Chudakov expresses disgust with their attitude, an English visitor enters, accompanied by a bureaucrat, an interpreter, and a reporter. The visiting Mr. Pont Kich is anxious to see the latest triumph of Soviet science. Gladly Chudakov explains the principles behind his device, but later Velosipedkin chides him for failing to realize that Kich is likely a Western spy—to be safe, Velosipedkin picked Kich’s pocket of a notebook. The visitor is immediately forgotten, however, when Polya enters. With her husband Pobedonosikov, the nation’s most important bureaucrat, she lives in an apartment above the workshop. Polya brings money—surreptitiously given to her by Pobedonosikov’s own bookkeeper—for parts for the time machine. After Foskin fetches the parts, Chudakov activates the machine for a test. There is a loud noise and a cloud of smoke: The test is a success. Inside the previously empty machine lies a cryptic piece of paper from the future. Interpreting this letter as a warning that the machine occupies a spot where some future catastrophe will happen, Chudakov pleads for his friends’ help in securing government money and manpower to elevate the machine to empty, safe air.
Act 2 occurs at Pobedonosikov’s office. Outside his door (on which is posted a sign, “If you haven’t been announced, don’t come in!”), his aide Optimistenko keeps at bay a long line of petitioners. Chudakov and Velosipedkin rush in. Ignoring the waiting line, they confront the chief’s assistant. To their momentary delight, Optimistenko immediately replies that a decision has already been made about their request. Their hopes are shattered by his next sentence: “It is rejected.”
On the other side of the door Pobedonosikov dictates a memo filled with revolutionary sentiment hamstrung by bureaucratic procedures. He pauses momentarily to accept delivery of a Louis Quatorze sofa; appropriately the hammer and sickle replaces aristocratic gilt along its arms and over its fabric. He pauses again to consult with a painter about his official portrait; the artist’s commission will be paid by the chief’s grateful...
(The entire section is 1061 words.)