Bulgakov and the vaudeville

Communism’s collapse left behind not just devastated people but also enough stories for thousand and one of Scheherazade to invent in the following ages.

Aggressive, accusatory, tormented and unforgiving, being created right after the regime, the stories about the Iron Curtain period started little by little to loose their sharpness and finally, they turned out to be rather research works in theatre and film. Alexandru Tocilescu’s most recent settings subscribe to this, after Elizaveta Bam, A Day from  Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Life and Red Comedy,the director brings on the stage of the Theatre of Comedy from Bucharest one of Bulgakov,s texts. Zoika’s Apartment is an apparently simple play.

This is a woman who struggles to maintain herself above “her times” but who unfortunately ends up defeated, and above all with her own weapons. It is the old drama of the human being caught in the vortex of history, dreaming of a miraculous rescue of destiny, but who is irrevocably caught under its net from the very beginning. Zoika is one of the hundreds, thousands and hundreds of thousands of victims of a dictatorial regime that turned the citizens into their own caricatures. She is a former aristocrat who dreams of a miraculous departure from the country where the regime confiscated her air and her home, forcing her to resort to all kind of tricks in order to survive. She bears the burden of a love for a man, count Oblianinov, who is a drug addict but still charming, who plays the piano and refuses obstinately the world he lives in. She revolves around illusions, and she makes a brothel (for the communist officials) that officially works as a tailor’s workshop. Right there, among expensive dresses and fine materials, lies the whole rotten mess of a system in which Zoika will eventually dip with all her dreams, as the communist official Gus, “the commercial director of the heavy metals” is killed right into her own house of tolerance run by herself and Ametistov, a doubtful man that pretends to be her cousin and who seems to have marked her past.

Alexandru Tocilescu’s setting leads to an area where grotesque becomes overwhelming and easy to confuse with kitsch. From a certain point of view this is a remarkable success: to transform one of Bulgakov’s plays into vaudeville. It is a show of over three hours, in which the director tears to pieces the text of the Russian writer, as for dissection, but fails to put it back together.

The first scene. The curtains reveal a world, slightly outdated, a space that is supposed to express equally the sad spirit of the former Russian aristocracy and the misery of the new world, created by the communists. The director tries to create the image of a regime that is still in us and around us, disposing of closets moving on Prokofiev’s music and of  allusions made in a more or less subtle way to the Big Brother‘s eye, which are realised through green lights dancing into the darkness.This is the room from Zoika’s apartment, a place where the air does not seem to belong to her anymore, a place where  she does not seem to belong to herself anymore. Too little  from Bulgakov’s elegant sadeness looms on this setting from the Comedy Theatre where, Virginia Mirea ( the actress who interprets Zoika) slides stiffly and insecurely among words, always trying to find the proper tone. The exaggerated humor arising from the play satisfies a kind of public who is more and more influenced by  the  type of  comic promoted by the media, although  the intentions of the director were exacly the opposite. The story develops heavily, uneasily, marked from time to time by colorful moments, too colorful in fact, such as those where the Chinese who is a laundry owner and a morphine seller appears. These moments are developed in such a predictable way, line after line, gesture after gesture, accompained by some kind of predictable and pretty much redundant chords, that  seem to have so little to do with the text. The scenes from the brothel  are realised pretty much in the same manner, whith  humor  based on  exagerated situations, such as  Roxana Ciuhulescu’s apparition ( the presenter of the  Pro Motor Show), who looks down on everything, whose stature becomes one of the few comic resouces, that happen to be very appealing to the public along to the erotic dances from the brothel.

Always trying to find her place, Virginia Mirea’s Zoika leads Bulgakov’s text to a fragile line, and the self irony, the core of  the mounting, gets out of control. A strong woman that nothing can bring down; neither the image of Moskow destroyed by communists, that she watches permanently through the large window from the back, nor the destroyed man that she loves and helps to survive providing him with his daily morphine, nor the image of her past , that runs into her life through Ametistov –  her alterego, nor the communists themselves. She is destroyed by her own dreams, by her hope to escape to Cote d’Azur. In this worls full of dirt and strangely populated by optimistic dreams, a bunch of strongly caricaturized characters are moving, that shift completely out of control from one shore to another, interpreting  parts that grow separatedly, and that remain so until the end. That concerns equally George Mihaita that plays Ametistov’s part, Valentin Teodosiu that plays Gus-Remontnii , and Gelu Niţu that plays Obolianinov. Although constant to itself Teododosiu’s direction fails constantly to meet with Bulgakov’s text.This is because he is so prone to offer a good show but on the other hand he banter the „show-making” industry from here and anywhere else, an industry in which Zoika’s Apartment becomes a frail victim.

Written by Monica Andronescu

Translated by Oana Craciunescu, MTTLC, 2nd year


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