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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1055

Act 1

In the first scene of Act 1, the audience meets Leon Tolchinsky, a thirtyish schoolteacher who has just accepted a new assignment in the remote Ukrainian village of Kulyenchikov. The year is 1890. Leon addresses the audience to explain his new job. He applied for and received the...

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Act 1

In the first scene of Act 1, the audience meets Leon Tolchinsky, a thirtyish schoolteacher who has just accepted a new assignment in the remote Ukrainian village of Kulyenchikov. The year is 1890. Leon addresses the audience to explain his new job. He applied for and received the position by mail, so he is seeing the town for the first time. As he admires the town from its outskirts, he runs into Snetsky, the shepherd. Following introductions, Snetsky reveals that he has lost his sheep, which happens to him frequently. He also tells Leon that many, many schoolteachers have come before him, but none of them lasted even a day. He then tells Leon that everyone in Kulyenchikov is stupid, which makes Leon’s job nearly impossible. When Leon mentions that he has been hired by Dr. Zubritsky to tutor his daughter, Sophia, Snetsky informs him that she is especially dim-witted. The scene ends as Leon heads into town, somewhat nervously, to see if Snetsky’s description is accurate. The magistrate announces the time: nine o’clock in the morning.

In Act 1, Scene 2, Leon is further in his journey through Kulyenchikov. He encounters Yenchna, Mishkin, and Slovitch. Slovitch is the town butcher, Mishkin is the postmaster, and Yenchna is a street vendor. Like Snetsky, Yenchna, Mishkin, and Slovitch are very dumb, and their conversations with each other and Leon often go in circles. When Leon inquires about the location of Dr. Zubritsky’s house, each of them points in a different direction. Puzzled, Leon leaves and hopes to stumble upon it on his own. After he leaves, the three locals ponder whether Leon knows about the "curse."

The action shifts to Dr. Zubritsky’s house in Scene 3. The doctor is giving the magistrate a rather ineffective eye exam. As the doctor sends the magistrate on his way, Lenya enters excitedly to inform him that the new schoolteacher has arrived. Lenya feels very strongly that Leon might be the one to break the curse, but both she and the doctor have trouble remembering the word curse. When Leon enters, they ask him to demonstrate his learning by asking them questions. They are very excited about his questions but are unable to answer them. They inform Leon of the "Curse of Kulyenchikov" and let him read about it in a book. According to legend, Casimir Yousekevitch and Sophia Zubritsky were engaged to each other back in 1691. Sophia’s father was highly educated and refused to allow his daughter to marry the illiterate Casimir. When Casimir killed himself, his father (a sorcerer) put a curse on the Zubritsky family and the entire town of Kulyenchikov, robbing them of their intelligence. Leon vows to reverse the curse by tutoring Dr. Zubritsky’s daughter, who is also named Sophia.

When Sophia enters, Leon confesses to the audience that he is completely taken with her. Leon tests Sophia several times, but she is unable to respond correctly to the simplest of questions. Still, Leon senses her passion to learn and agrees to return the next day to continue their work. After Sophia exits, Leon asks her father if she is available. Dr. Zubritsky tells him that Count Gregor Yousekevitch pursues her daily, but she refuses. Although he is foolish like the rest of the town, he knows that a marriage between a Yousekevitch and a Zubritsky would break the curse. More determined than ever to win Sophia, Leon leaves and talks to Sophia at her balcony. She reveals that she returns his feelings and the two share a kiss.

In Act 1, Scene 4, the action continues as Leon runs into Yenchna, Mishkin, Slovitch, and Yenchna. They inform him that a side effect of the curse is that there is no love in Kulyenchikov; therefore, Sophia may not be able to love Leon back. Gregor enters and attempts to propose to Sophia, who declines because she cannot make an informed decision. Leon, who has eavesdropped, reveals himself to the count as a rival. Gregor informs him of one more aspect of the curse: if Leon does not break the curse or leave the town within twenty-four hours, he will also lose his intelligence. After Gregor leaves, Sophia likewise warns Leon, but he remains committed to breaking the curse.

Act 2

The second act begins with Leon’s arrival at Dr. Zubritsky’s house at eight o’clock the next day. With only an hour to break the curse, Leon feverishly tries to educate Sophia with simple problems such as the sum of one and one. As each attempt fails, the Zubritskys and the townspeople wait anxiously outside, aware that Leon will lose his intellect at nine o’clock. Mishkin mentions that he has an important letter for Leon, but the group is preoccupied with the outcome of the lesson. Finally, the Magistrate announces that it is nine o’clock; Leon becomes confused. When the doctor questions him, Leon responds with the same lack of understanding as the rest of the town has. When they are alone again, Leon reveals to Sophia that the curse didn’t work and he still has his intelligence. He believes part of the reason the curse has been perpetuated is because everyone in the town believes it. He vows to marry Sophia the next day and break the “curse” once and for all. After he leaves, he runs into Gregor and convinces him that his efforts to woo Sophia have been and always will be fruitless. Leon suggests that Gregor adopt him so that he will be a Yousekevitch and his marriage to Sophia will break the curse. Gregor, eager for the approval of the town that despises him, agrees.

Act 2, Scene 2 opens with the wedding of Sophia and Leon the next day. Gregor disrupts the wedding by revealing that the adoption was phony and he plans to wed Sophia himself. Leon then lies about his special letter from Mishkin and tells the crowd he is distantly related to the Yousekevtiches. When he marries Sophia, there is a huge thunderclap and the whole town falls to the ground. As the townspeople get up, they happily test their newfound intelligence in areas such as math, politics, and geography. Leon addresses the audience and reveals the (mostly) happy futures of the residents of Kulyenchikov, including his marriage to the very bright Sophia.

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