The Post-Soviet Politician As Clown

/, Theatre/Film, Blesok no. 15/The Post-Soviet Politician As Clown

The Post-Soviet Politician As Clown

In the San Francisco State production of Demoracy, scenary despicting the comic side of post-Communist government was inspired by Melamid. (The two artists portrayed Brodsky himself in one of their pop art canvases. His face appears as that of the poet Cicero in the 1984-85 collage, Eggs, Coitus, and Cicero.) As founders of the SOTS art (Soviet pop art) movements, Komar and Melamid frequently parodied Soviet socialist realism by adding surreal, erotic, and anachronistic details to official-looking portraits of Communists leaders. Their New Yorker magazine cover featured Lenin hailing a yellow cab in Manhattan, with one arm streched out as it was in many orations; the red banner behind him displayed not the hammer and sickle, but the yellow “M” of the McDonald’s hamburger logo. Since Brodsky’s stage directions call for portraits of the “founding fathers” to be displayed in the office of the leader of the small socialist state, on our stage large circus-like canvas portraits of Stalin, Lenin and Castro covered the back wall. Initially Lennin’s outstreched arm held a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka; later, after the official change to a democratic form of government, the vodka was replaced by a large can can of Classic Coke, and (with apologies to Komar and melamid) the red banner behined Lenin acquired the yellow logo of McDonald’s. A little later, the portrait of Castro playing a quiatar was replaced by one of Elvis playing quitar, and Stalin (blonde-haired in our grotesque canvas) was replaced by Marylin Monroe. Basil’s secretary changed clothes to look like a cross between Marylin and Madonna, complete with motorcycle jacket, blonde wig, and a life-size cardboard motorcycle. The transition to Western democracy– and to popular images associated with it-was nearly complete.
But it would be inaccurate to say that a complete transition to Western forms takes place in Demoracy. The play carries its Eastern Europian characters into situations so bizarre that they rival the outrageous reality of post-Soviet life in Russian and its former satelites. The bear which behaves like a stuffed animal in Act I “emerges with a handgun in his paw” in Act II and prevents the Minister of Justice from absconding with a briefcase full of money. “Simply a higly-trained bear”, but also a “multipurpose robot”, the animal embodies the best of Russian and gypsy circus life as well as technology. In fact, an actor in a bear suit is needed to portry the animal, in all probabylity, so even here some human element retards the tehnocracy predicted within the play.
The rescued briefcase contains two-million marks in loans that the Minister of Finance secured abroad to finance a new industry: bottled soda water-to replace the failed eel canning industry of the past. But Basil and his ministers would rather spend the funds on personal needs. “Best to buy some land, or a house. Real estate, in word”, counsels President Basil. The plot verges on parody of Humphrey Bogart film in which the bandits feud over stolen loot. Is this the feature of post-Soviet governments?
Brodsky offers no answers, only comic takes on the new coruption and nuclear terrors that may arise under the next generation of Eastern Europian leaders, as their freedom from Communism leads to self-serving ekections and self-destryction under primitive capitalism leads to self-destruction under primitive capitalism. Basil Modestovich and his ministers accept foreign loans, knowing their country is inviting a new, post -Soviet form of foreign occupation by banks and the countries that uphold banking interests. “To drive a nation into debt is a far more secure uphold of occupation that invasion”, notes one of the ministers. From this perspective, democracy and elections are merly part of the banking process– a theatrical exercise that qualifies the country for Western loans. Gustav, the Finance Minister, knows that “without free elections, no foreign investment.”
The most cheerful and most optimistic moment in the san Francisco production of Demoracy arose when the actirs, cued by the Minister of Culture, cecilia, began to sign and dance to Sidney Bechet’s jazz tune, Petit fleur. Their new national anthem included the lyrics, “Dear land, I’ll never part from you”. Brodsky introduced it as a parody of nationalism, but the tune became a joyous and comic, it slightly sentimental, moment, as the actors waltzed througt the theatre aisles and turned the moment, entire space into their ballroom. (This scene is far more of celebration that their cynical signing of the transfer of power requires.) The dance, followed by the smoking of rare Cuban cigars, represented a movement toward art and friendship, before the desent into the atomic-bomb computerized governance of Act II.
So far, no eastern Europian nation has adapted Sidney beachet’s jazz for its anthem. In the former Soviet Union, the feuds over national identity and power mimicked by Brodsky have counterparts that are far from comic. The clowning, song, dance, and feast within Demoracy contain elements of a utopian future which will not be found in Eastern Europian governments-outside their representation in the theatre-for some time to come.

Notes:
Quations from Brodsky’s Demoracy are taken from Alan Myer’s translation, which was published serially in Performing Arts Journal ( 37), Granta (Winter,1990), and Partisan Review (2, 1993). Brodsky assigned no specific lines of dialogue to his characters, leaving the collaboration with my co-director, Chris Hampton, and the cast of the play, which was parformed at San Francisko State University’s Studio Theatre in March, 1995. Although written in Russian, the play has yet to published or staged in Russian, as far as I know.

AuthorJoel Schechter
2018-08-21T17:23:53+00:00 June 1st, 2000|Categories: Theory, Theatre/Film, Blesok no. 15|0 Comments