Ayzik Sheftel[Isaac Sheftel]
Act I. Isaac Sheftel's cellar home, with sooty windows and dingy surroundings. Isaac, a thin young man of about thirty, is sitting at the table and whittling. His wife Beylya is nursing their younger child, Elinka. Pinye, Isaac’s father, sits on a bed and stares into space. Beylya berates her boarders as well as her husband, who has stayed home from his job at the factory for the last three days so he could work on his latest invention. Isaac’s boss comes by to warn him that if he does not return to work this afternoon, he will be replaced. Isaac’s father continues his ongoing lament that everything, including God, is dead. A shopkeeper to whom the Sheftels owe money enters, followed by the boss’s son, a dandy who mocks Isaac’s invention and flirts with the girls. He leaves with the daughter of one of the boarders, and as Isaac trembles under the force of his wife’s scolding, the curtain falls.
Act II. A wide room in Goldin’s factory, around noon. Workers in various modes of relaxation. More workers enter, followed by a dejected Isaac, whom they greet with a joking fanfare. After the boss’s swaggering son passes through, Beylya brings Isaac’s dinner, but he won’t eat. After she leaves, Isaac gulps down a flask of whiskey, then starts crying. The boss enters and berates Isaac for being drunk. Isaac lashes back, gets fired, and smashes his own machine. He goes off and throws a rock through the window, hitting the boss’s son in the side. The boss screams for the police.
Act III. Isaac’s dwelling, late that night. The young women puzzle over Isaac’s whereabouts, while Pinye mutters that everything is dead. The girls make fun of the boss’s son. Various people stop in, looking for Isaac. They find him and bring him inside, and he recounts how he went into the woods, had a fit, then went on a drinking binge. When the others have gone, Isaac tells Beylya that he has swallowed rat poison, but now that it is starting to take effect, he shrieks, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to!”