It all started with Saratov, where the troupe came on tour and where the actors were accommodated in a bad hotel. It’s hot, director Sergei Leonidovich flew to Moscow, leaving instead of assistant Smurny. This Smurny long ago laid eyes on Lyalya (Lyudmila Petrovna Telepnev), one of the actresses of the theater, but when she avenged her for rejecting him, he arranged her a “paste” for her, that is, either she did not give her a role at all, or she kept her on third-rate. In Saratov, Smurny summons Lyalya to her and shows her a letter composed by her mother, where she complains that her daughters, a talented actress, are not allowed to work. Between the actors, rumors spread immediately, Lala is insanely ashamed, she has repeatedly asked the mother who has long sinned such petitions, not to do so. So at a party at the author of the play, Nikolai Demyanovich Smolyanov, a native of Saratov, Lyalya does not find a place for himself. She has a bad mood, she feels alienated from the collective, she pities her and the provincial, little-gifted playwright, who has been diligent to accept the actors well, and they mock him. Lyalya helps Smolyanov’s mother to cover on the table, and after washing dishes, they stay with them and eventually have to spend the night. Smolyanov seems to her pitiful, weak, she listens to stories about the life of this unhappy man in family life, who, moreover, is fully aware of his giftedness. After pitying Smolyanov, Lyalya becomes
Returning to Moscow, Lyalya leaves for the month in the Crimea, comes back tanned, rested, attractive and meets Smolyanov in the theater, a new play by which Ignat Timofeevich is going to be staged by Sergei Leonidovich. In this play Lyalya, not without the assistance of Smolyanov, gets the main role. In Moscow, Smolyan starts a variety of useful acquaintances. Lali’s novel continues with him, she does not feel passion for this man, but feels that he needs him, and therefore does not break ties, although sometimes she is tormented by remorse for her unofficial husband Grigory Rebrov, with whom they have lived for many years.
Rebrov is also a novice playwright, the author of two plays, which nowhere can be attached. Painfully selfish Rebrov suffers from his failures, comforting himself that the composition of plays is not the main thing in his life. He is also fascinated by history, sits in the library, digs through the archives. First he is interested in such a person as Ivan Gavrilovich Pryzhov, the author of the History of Taverns, the writer of national life, the drunkard, the noblest person, one of the participants in the murder of student Ivanov, organized by S. Nechaev, then Nikolai Vasilyevich Kletochnikov, the agent of the People’s Will in the Third Department. Rebrov conceives a play about the People’s Will. Because of his unhappiness, he does not marry Lyalya, despite his deep and long-standing love for her. With this are connected and Lyalina abortions, which is pushed by her mother Irina Ignatyevna, a formerly unsuccessful ballerina.
The premiere of Smolyanov’s play is a great success, Lyalya is applauded several times, envious whispers are heard around her. After the performance, she is forced to acquaint the waiting Rebrov with Smolyanov, who sees her off. Sam Rebrov at the premiere was not, because he considers the author as a graphomaniac. Smolyanov proposes to celebrate the success of the play in the restaurant. After supper they three, drunk, come on a visit to Lyalya and Rebrov in the house of her parents, where they stay overnight.
Rebrov suspects that there is something between Lyalya and Smolyanov, but drives this thought away from himself. His and Lyalin’s success touches him, which grows with every performance. She becomes popular, she is invited to act in films, arrange concerts with her participation, on which she sings songs from the play. They raise the salary, give special signs of attention. She feels like a rich woman. The only thing that prevents her from feeling completely happy is the sufferings of her family: Grisha’s unsettled state, nervousness of his mother due to illness of his father Lyalya Petr Aleksandrovich, who has a third heart attack. Their old wooden house is going to be broken, like everyone around, because the city is coming, but Peter Alexandrovich wants to preserve the garden, his pride, where he plants flowers. He is ready to transfer the garden to the state property, tries to fight, goes to the authorities,
Worrying about Grisha, Lyalya, who never asked Smolyanova about anything, she asked me to help to arrange some Rebrovian plays. Smolyanov reluctantly responds to this. He does not understand what connects Lyalya with such a pathetic, in his words, “little man”. He believes that Rebrov does not have soil, whereas Rebrov, arguing with him, says that his soil is an experience of history. At a party at a certain “respectable worker” Agabekov, where Smolyanov brings her to her, Lyalya is at the center of everyone’s attention, genuinely having fun, then Smolyanov is extinguished somewhere, and Lyalya is alone with Agabekov awaiting him. After the call of Smolyanov, who reported that he was stuck with the car and would pick it up in the morning, Lyalya suddenly realizes that everything was set up and Smolyanov lost to her boss, on whom much depended on his career. From that moment everything is over with him, about which Lyalya and informs him at the meeting. Smolyanov takes the break severely, especially since his family is not well off: a mentally unbalanced wife tries to throw herself out of the window, a mother with a stroke in the hospital, and his theatrical affairs deteriorate. Sergei Leonidovich and zavlit Marevin refuse to take his new play, and Lyalya unexpectedly supports them.
Meanwhile Rebrov has serious problems. He is required to obtain a certificate for a house management from his place of work, otherwise he will be considered a parasite, up to discharge and eviction from Moscow. He goes to the theater, where he gave his plays for consideration, and he has a serious conversation with the director Sergei Leonidovich, who is bitterly surprised why the playwrights do not write about what is really close to them, but choose conjuncture topics. With eager interest, after listening to Rebrov’s story about Kletochnikov, he enthusiastically says that it would be wonderful if it were possible to depict on the stage the passage of time, carrying all, the stranded wire of history, where everything is merged.
Smolyanoy is looking for a talented literary “slave”. Someone Shakhov, their common friend with Rebrov, leads Grisha to him. Smolyanov is still in force: if his name is next to Rebrsky on the play, it can give her a green light. However, Smolyanov’s invitation conceals something else under him: he arranges Rebrov’s trial, purposely putting on his shirt, which Lyalya gave him at the time.
Rebrov accidentally found his shirt in the closet, and Lyalya lied to his question that it was a collective gift to a musician from the orchestra. Now he looks with amazement at the shirt, then does not stand up and asks where Nikolai Demjanovich bought it. Smolyanov answers what Lyudmila Petrovna gave.
There is an explanation between Rebrov and Lyalya. Lala frankly admits that in the background of her relationship with Smolyanov, almost unconscious, was the desire to “somehow arrange themselves.” That conversation becomes the actual end of their relationship. Soon Smolyanov appears at Rebrov’s house, who reports that he has agreed in the theater about the place of zavlita for him, and Rebrov can not understand whether to beat Smolyanov, or go to get a job. And all this is like a dream – both shame and surprise. To all other things, Lyalya under the pressure of her mother makes another abortion, but Rebrov already feels that something has irrevocably changed in him, that the old life has ended. The next day he leaves without warning anyone, on a geological expedition.
Many years pass. Telepnevyh’s homes have long been absent, as did Lali’s parents. She herself was fired from the theater, married a military man, gave birth to a son, and now the circle of her acquaintances is quite different. Accidentally met in GUM an old friend of the theater Masha, she learns about Smolyanov that he does not write plays and lives by renting a summer cottage for the summer. She also learns about Rebrov: he is a successful screenwriter, he has a car, he has been married twice, he has an affair with the daughter of his friend’s Machine. She does not know only one thing: those old years when he was poor and suffering, Rebrov considers the best, because for happiness you need the same misfortune…