Before he wrote The Government Inspector, arguably the funniest play ever written in Russian, the writer Nikolai Gogol began another comedy called Marriage.
Gogol started the piece in 1833, but he was reluctant to submit the first draft for production. In the meantime, The Government Inspector had its premiere in 1836, with the czar himself in the audience. Marriage didn't have quite as lavish a reception, but it was performed in 1842 at the Aleksandrovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
The plot of the play is rather light, but it delights audiences with the comic characters it presents. The bachelor Podkolyosin begins the play by complaining that he has waited too long to get married. "Now I've gone and missed the marrying season again," he laments. Not wanting to put things off any further, he calls in the matchmaker, Fyokla, who offers him Agafya Tikhonovna as a potential bride.
Podkolyosin's recently wed friend Kochkaryov runs on and berates Fyokla for getting him married when he had been perfectly happy single. Once he learns that his friend is considering matrimony, however, Kochkaryov seems to think this is a great idea. (Perhaps this is because misery loves company!) He resolves to play matchmaker himself and get Podkolyosin married to Agafya without Fyokla's assistance.
The scene shifts to a room in Agafya's house, where Fyokla brings in a string of ridiculous suitors. Podkolyosin likes the young woman well enough at first, but when he hears some of the other men making negative remarks about her, he begins to rethink the whole thing. The curtain falls on the first act with Kochkaryov convincing his friend to get married so long as he can arrange things for him.
Those arrangements rise to a frantic pace, as Kochkaryov manages to eliminate all of the other suitors and get his friend some one-on-one time with the blushing beauty. Blushing is right, too, since neither one of them can think of much to say to each other. Kochkaryov pushes on, and manages to get both to agree to a wedding that very day.
In a classic example of cold feet, Podkolyosin ends up leaping from the window and running away rather than facing a hasty marriage. Poor Agafya is left alone in her wedding gown, and Fyokla gets the last word, shouting out a final I told you so....
Though Marriage with its large cast is not likely to be produced soon in the current pandemic environment, The Russian Arts Theatre and Studio will be performing a socially distanced adaptation of Gogol's short story The Overcoat starting at the end of next month. It should be a triumphant return of live performance to New York!