There are three characters in Emotion Memory–Chekhov, Stanislavsky, and Lyka. The simple unit set has a few pieces of furniture and represents four places: Chekhov’s estate at Melikovo, a room in Moscow, the Paradise Theatre in Moscow, and Chekhov’s home in Yalta. The time of the action is from 1892 to 1904. We hear Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” being played on an old piano as the lights come up on Chekhov and Lyka. It is evening; we see fireflies and hear crickets as the music ends. Lyka tells Chekhov that he is good company but that he is lonely and unhappy. Chekhov tells her of an experience he had with a young peasant girl when he was a young man in Moscow. Lyka thinks the story is sad, but Chekhov insists it is funny. She says that she never knows where she is with him and asks what he means when he says he loves her. She tells him that she has been spending time with Potapenko, a married man, and wants to give herself to someone who wants her. Chekhov thinks that she should have what she wants and, as she leaves, remarks that the fireflies flash their lights in a complex mating ritual. “I hope they’re better at it than you are,” Lyka says, leaving as the lights fade.
The second scene takes place in a room in Moscow early in the morning after the first (and disastrous) performance of The Seagull. Lyka is sitting in a chair as Chekhov comes in after walking for hours in the snow. He says the theatre is “a monstrous obscenity,” the actors “totally incompetent,” the audience “moronic,” and the critics “cannibalistic orangutans.” He wants her to shoot him if he is ever stupid enough to write another play. She tells him that at least the terrible production has brought out his true feelings, deep emotions that he always tries to hide. She says Potapenko’s desertion and the death of her child and her suicide attempt were connected to deep emotions, that she at least is honest about what she feels. Chekhov says he is sorry for her suffering, and Potapenko is a swine, but he is not going to wear his heart on his sleeve to be destroyed over and over. She says the play is beautiful and that it is about her, the girl who loves the cynical writer who abandons her. She tells him that the play was an act of love and that she is proud of his “amazing gift.”
Three years later, at the Paradise Theatre in Moscow, Chekhov and Stanislavsky discuss the latter’s production of The Seagull, an artistic triumph to everyone but the author. Stanislavsky tries to convince Chekhov that he wants to spend the rest of his life living inside his plays, that it’s “the most important thing I could posssibly be doing.” Chekhov says that even when the play is done right it is still a betrayal of “a poor, lost girl who was my friend and who loved me.” “Well,” Stanislavsky says, “life is made of betrayal. Art holds up the mirror. Love makes us do it. It’s completely insane. Let’s do it again.”
The last scene takes place at night, with fireflies, at Chekhov’s home in Yalta in 1904. Lyka has been drinking and Chekhov tells her that his wife, Olga, makes him very happy. Lyka tells him that he was just using her, the way all writers use people, that his words have infected her brain, that all she wants to to is drink until she can sleep. She says that everybody is dying and that we go to the theatre while we wait. She asks Chekhov if fireflies love and when he says he doesn’t know anything about love she suggests they sit and watch the fireflies “for a little while longer.” They watch as the lights fade and go out.