Translated from the French by Jeremy Lawrence
A free adaptation based on the last nightmare of the director, Vsevolod Meyerhold before being killed in prison in 1940 under the orders of Generalissimo Josef Vissarionovitch Stalin.
THE PROMPTER, ZENAIDA
THE MEMBERS OF THE COMMISSION (The President, the Court Recorder, etc.)
THE MEN IN LEATHER OVERCOATS
Various MEMBERS OF THE ACTING COMPANY (Ivan, Anton, Piotr, etc.)
Other apparitions of characters from the play by Shakespeare
In the middle of the empty stage, MEYERHOLD, dozes on a chair. THE YOUNG GIRL emerges from the prompter’s box. Her leg is in a cast. She shakes MEYERHOLD gently.
THE YOUNG GIRL - Comrade Meyerhold…Comrade Meyerhold. . .
MEYERHOLD - What is it?
THE YOUNG GIRL - Nothing. Only, well… you were sleeping.
MEYERHOLD - I was? Really? …Who are you?
THE YOUNG GIRL - You are tired, comrade Meyerhold. You’ve been asleep in this chair for three hours. You almost fell out of it twice. And twice I caught you. But now I must go home. There is no one left in the theatre. That’s why I dared to wake you. I know that you are tired, but you can’t wait here like this. . . .You really might fall and hurt yourself badly. Would you like a drink of water?
MEYERHOLD - Yes. . . Thank you.
THE YOUNG GIRL - You don’t recognize me, do you? It’s not important. I am Zenaida, the prompter. I’ve been the prompter for two months.
MEYERHOLD - Excuse me, Zenaida. I had a nightmare. My head is spinning. What did the commission say?
THE YOUNG GIRL - They said nothing. They’re all gone. . .
MEYERHOLD - How could that be, gone? But . . . they were in the midst of deliberations here in the theatre.
THE YOUNG GIRL - I know nothing about anything.
MEYERHOLD - They were here, in the room just now. . .
THE YOUNG GIRL - They all went to eat at noon and no one has come back. . . And now it’s night. Maybe, I should have got you up sooner, but I didn’t dare.
MEYERHOLD - (Moves towards the footlights, as if trying to orient himself in the space.) They seemed to be happy with it. . .
THE YOUNG GIRL - You know I am an actress myself. But I broke my leg six months ago, so they gave me this job, and now I prompt.
MEYERHOLD - They told me not to budge from here. . . They told me that it wouldn’t take more than ten minutes. . .
THE YOUNG GIRL (brings Meyerhold’s hat and coat) - And anyway, I like prompting. Viewed from the prompter’s box, all the plays are so fascinating… And you, you work like an angel, comrade Meyerhold… You are always so gentle, so precise… I am so happy to have been able to talk to you for two minutes… I suffered so much because of this leg. Two times they put it in a cast. The first time they screwed it up badly and they had to break the bone again to repair the mistake. That’s horrible for an actress. . . (She goes back down into the prompter’s box.) But at least I can watch you work. . . Go, go back home, your wife, comrade Tania must be so worried. Although I think she must be used to your always being late. ….And don’t forget your cigarettes…and the matches…You’ll probably want to smoke tonight.
MEYERHOLD (hand in the air, hat in hand) - In any case, just a little while ago, they all burst into applause …
In the black, wild applause of a play that is a triumph. Ovations etc.
The bedroom of VSEVOLOD and TANIA. The room is swept from time to time by beams of light that come from outside like the light from a lighthouse or the searchlight from a police car.
TANIA lets out a cry and wakes up. She sits up in bed and remains motionless. One sees that she is pregnant. She puts her hands on her large stomach and stares into the emptiness.
She gets out of bed, crosses the room, goes into the bathroom.
MEYERHOLD wakes up abruptly. He sits up in bed and remains motionless. On hears a light noise at the window.
MEYERHOLD goes to open the window. We hear a car motor running.
As two men in leather coats enter the room, THE GENERALISSIMO appears at the window. He smokes a pipe.
The two men superficially search through the belongings of MEYERHOLD while he talks with THE GENERALISSIMO.
MEYERHOLD - Comrade Generalissimo, is that you?
THE GENERALISSIMO - Yes, it’s me.
MEYERHOLD - But … (He shouts toward the closed door of the bathroom.) Tania, come see who is here… Tania, we have a visitor…
THE GENERALISSIMO - Shh! Don’t shout so loudly, comrade Meyerhold… You will wake all your neighbors and it’s the middle of the night… I don’t have time to come in. . . I am pressed for time… But as I was passing by, I said to myself, hold on, I’m going to have a word with comrade Vsevolod… who is the greatest director in the country… Your Richard III is a marvel, Volodea! Do you mind if I call you Volodea?
MEYERHOLD - You’ve seen it? Already? You were in the theatre? As a matter of fact, the Commission just saw the production.. .The members of the commission are still in the midst of deliberating, or so it seems…
THE GENERALISSIMO - What power! A warning to scum! Such courage! This is why the party likes men like you, like Bulgakov, like Gorki. . . because you are the judges of history. Because you are the incorruptible might of the nation… Gogol’s play that you put on ten years ago I saw it five times. . .
MEYERHOLD - I hope, I hope that the Commission will not delay in giving me the green light. . . They’ve already been deliberating for two days. . . I expected them to ask me questions. . .They have seen the production twice now. . .
THE GENERALISSIMO - Don’t worry about it, comrade Volodea. That’s what commissions are created for, deliberations. . . How can you catch our breath like that, comrade Volodea… That’s what one calls Great Art. Come, I must fly…The whole world must see this play. . . This play is more than a play, it is a trial. The trial of history…
MEYERHOLD - Comrade Generalissimo, what an honor to have been able to speak with you… Thank you for passing by, comrade Generalissimo…
THE GENERALISSIMO - One must, one must denounce history, dear Volodea, You don’t mind my calling you, Volodea? (He shakes his pipe.) This pipe is a real pain. The least bit of breeze and it’s out… Do you have a light Volodea?
MEYERHOLD - Yes… Yes… (He relights THE GENERALISSIMO’s pipe.) You know for me, art has always been the inner voice. . .
THE GENERALISSIMO - You do well to listen to your inner voice comrade Master Artiste….It is only the inner voice that speaks the truth… Farewell…
The two men in leather coats leave. One hears the toilet flush in the bathroom.
MEYERHOLD - It’s been a week since the Commission saw my production… For one week we play for no one but the commission… After the first commission, there was a second commission… And then a third, enlarged. And then a fourth, reduced… And always no questions…
THE GENERALISSIMO disappears. One hears the car door close and the car drive off.
Dressed in period costume, with a large hump on his back, RICHARD III comes out of the bathroom. He limps, his hands are dripping with blood. He goes to Meyerhold.
RICHARD III - He is gone?
MEYERHOLD - Yes…
RICHARD III - So?
MEYERHOLD - So, I don’t know.
RICHARD III - I told you this was not the right moment to put on Richard III.
MEYERHOLD - Stop. Even he, even he said it… “listen to your inner voice.”
RICHARD III - And I, I told you that this was not the right moment to put on Richard III. You have become dangerous, Volodea. In our country, anyone who knows how to move a crowd or make them laugh becomes dangerous. I told you to take on “Othello” …It’s sad, it’s beautiful… it speaks of love…
MEYERHOLD - But why are you scared, Richard? Why can’t you let your mind run free?
RICHARD III - I told you to take on ”Romeo and Juliet”…It’s sad, it’s beautiful…it speaks of love….
MEYERHOLD - It’s not as if “Richard III” has been banned. In our country we study Shakespeare at school, at the University… All the plays of Shakespeare have been translated into our mother tongue. One finds him in all the public libraries… In all the bookstores. So why are you afraid, Richard? We are living in a free country! We are living in the country of workers who build their own destiny. We are the masters of our own fate. Why be afraid of ….
RICHARD III makes desperate efforts to climb to the window’s ledge.
RICHARD III - Come on help me, shit!
MEYERHOLD helps RICHARD III who climbs to the window ledge and then jump into the void.
For a second time we hear the toilet flush in the bathroom. The door opens. A strong light blinds MEYERHOLD.
Several ”victims” of Richard’s cruelty come out of the bathroom. One might say some ghosts, the living dead, who are trickling blood. We recognize among them QUEEN ANNE, THE DUKE OF CLARENCE, etc. TANIA, whose nightgown is stained with blood, especially around her belly, advances to the middle of this grotesque group which accuses by its silence. The characters approach the footlights and rest motionless, staring the audience in the eye.
MEYERHOLD - Tania… You saw it too, You saw clearly… He came by and I relit his pipe. . . That’s not nothing. . . Tania. . .
TANIA - I am no longer your wife, you assassin. . .
MEYERHOLD - Tania, good God, what’s happened to us?
TANIA (hysterical, crying) - You don’t recognize me?
MEYERHOLD - No, you cannot do this to me. . .
TANIA - I am your voice, your voice that would censure you. I am the voice of self-censorship
MEYERHOLD - No, you cannot do this to me. . .
TANIA - You have made Richard III into a positive character…
MEYERHOLD - No, you cannot enter into my head!
THE VOICE OF SELF-CENSURE - Comrade Vsevolod Meyerhold, the interior of your head is the property of the working classes.
MEYERHOLD - My head belongs to me.
THE VOICE OF SELF-CENSURE - Oh no! (A bit the masochist, in spreading more blood on her nightgown.) You think that the party has not observed your deceit, your artistic style riddled with allusion? You think that the eye of the party cannot see through what you are doing.
She holds out her hand. MEYERHOLD takes off the shirt of his pajamas and hands it to TANIA.
MEYERHOLD (frightened) - Comrades, your interpretations are false. But, I make my self-criticism all the same. Yes, in my head, the production was born in confusion. Yes, the production was out of my control, even before it was born. The theatre is often like that. A performance is like a fish that wriggles right out of your hands… (Abruptly disgusted) No, I reject this melodramatic nonsense! It cannot be true. In my head, I am free. No matter what, no one can enter my head like that.
THE VOICE OF SELF-CENSURE - Oh but yes, the working class can.
MEYERHOLD - My head…is a private space.
THE VOICE OF SELF-CENSURE - But, in our country, private property has been abolished.
MEYERHOLD - You cannot be outside and inside my head at the same time.
THE VOICE OF SELF-CENSURE - But I am. (She searches in the pockets of the coat and finds the box of matches) What is it about you that finds Richard III to be a sympathetic and comic character?
MEYERHOLD - Comrades, I make my self-criticism. In this production which has just been viewed by the Commission of the Minister of Culture and Propaganda for the purpose of obtaining the permission to perform and broadcast, the character of Richard III is more sympathetic and positive because he has eluded my revolutionary vigilance. (Crying out) Now leave me alone!
THE VOICE OF SELF-CENSURE - (She lights a match and holds the flame to Meyerhold’s face.) Vsevolod Meyerhold, why, in your production, do the characters killed by Richard III stay standing until the end of the piece staring the spectators right in the eye, while the bloodthirsty Richard III only stares into space?
MEYERHOLD - (passing among the characters “assassinated” by Richard) Comrades, I make my self-criticism. The character Richard III has been much stronger than I. I fear I don’t have the power to control his movements on the stage. But, in every way I can, let me thank you, comrades! Thank you for being in my head! It makes me happy to have you in my head. Thank you for watching over me… Thank you, thank you…
The match burns out. Black.
Richard III n’aura pas lieu met en scène la mise en scène, ou la tentative de mise en scène sous un régime totalitaire : Meyerhold, voulant monter la célèbre pièce de Shakespeare, se heurte à une censure de plus en plus cauchemardesque et de plus en plus absurde, incarnée par des Commissions de toutes sortes, qui vont jusqu’à inclure parents, femme et enfant (un monstrueux « camarade bébé »). Tout est remis en cause, même le choix de la pièce, même les silences qui rythment le texte, par la voix même de l’autocensure : « Moi, Vsevolod Meyerhold, communiste de la première heure, j’ai fait preuve d’insolence citoyenne rien que par le choix de cette pièce mise en silence ». Pas de silence, donc pas de jeu possible, pas de pièce : le vide. La remise en cause est celle du théâtre même.
(Jean-Pierre Longre, SITARMAG, 2006)
Company Pli Urgent, Festival d’Avignon off, France 2001, directed by Christian Auger
Bulandra Theater Bucarest, Romania, 2003, directed by Catalina Buzoianu
English (translation Jeremy Laurence)
Hungarian (translation Ana Scarlat)
Bulgarian (translation Ognan Stamboliev)
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