[ATTENDED: November 19, 2015] Zoyka’s Apartment
This play was written by Mikhail Bulgakov, an author I’ve heard of but know little about. Turns out that all of his plays were banned by the Soviet government. Including this one, even though it was not an anti-Soviet play. After the banishment, he wrote to Stalin requesting permission to emigrate, but was denied.
As this play opens, there is a lectern at which an announcer reads a 1990 review of the play by Frank Rich in the New York Times (which you can read here). Perhaps the most fascinating thing that I heard from the review was this:
Boris A. Morozov’s production of Mikhail Bulgakov’s ”Zoya’s Apartment” at the Circle in the Square. Mr. Morozov is resident director of the Maly Theater in Moscow. His New York cast is headed by such actors as Bronson Pinchot.
Since Pinchot is my new favorite audio book reader, I immediately paid attention.
And then some weird things started happening. Some actors (dressed in Soviet drab) dragged chairs to the front of the stage and sat down. And while the announcer was reading, one of them shouted “stove” and then others started shouting things until the announcer left the stage and the play began.
The set was wonderfully minimalist (I had to wonder if this was a design idea or just a way to not spend a lot of money). The “apartment” was simply a frame with rooms delineated and sliding curtains for walls. We meet Zoya (Evelyn Giovine–who was wonderful) in her room. Her maid, Manyushka (Hope Kean–also wonderful) is there and then a man walks in. He is Aliluya (which they pronounced as Allelujah, which was very funny, although I’m not sure if that would have had any relevance to Bulgakov).
Aliluya tells Zoya that her apartment is to be reduced in size (again) since she is the only one living there. She argues that her maid is really her niece and that she has a lodger (who is “mythical”) and needs these rooms. Aliluya is bought off with a brie once Zoya shows off her leg and papers that she is going to open a seamstress shop in her apartment.
So far so good. Then things start to get peculiar. Pavel Fyodorovich Abolyaninov comes running in. He looks deathly ill and says he needs medicine from the Chinaman. Then the production split the scene in two (this was done so well). They pulled a curtain across the bedroom scene so you could only see shadows projected on it. And on the left side of the screen we saw the Chinaman’s laundry service. The old man is chastising a young ma n(whose name is Cherubim, I believe). When Manyushka comes in, Cherubim hits on her. She dismisses him but when it’s over, she looks at the audience and says “So that just happened.”
Clearly, the director of this version Alexandru Mihail is having a lot of fun with this story. There are many modern contrivances in this version although since I don’t know the original I don’t know what was new and what was modernized. The characters practically fetishize beer, some of the “ladies” are played by men (which may be true in the original), and the music is a mix of Soviet chanting with techno (it was pretty cool, I thought)..
Then things started to get a little confusing. Another man showed up claiming to be Zoya’s cousin. And they hatch a plan which seems to involve a woman who is short of money. And then there’s the whole seamstress business.
The break between acts one and two was provided by the old Chinaman (whose name I can’t get from the cast list) taking off her old man garb and mustache while singing a Chinese ballad (well, she lips synched the beginning and then sang the last two verses). It was…unexpected.
For Act two, they had totally rearranged the set (I loved how they did it–such great set design for this play). And the story got really farcical with men in drag parading around and asking how they looked in various dresses. Then another man showed up (a business man) and one of the ladies started coming on to him and things got…intimate. There was more crazy music with an orgiastic scene (if I had read that the “rael nature” of the seamstress shop was something else, I may have picked up on this sooner). So, the second act felt really long to me, and I was getting a little tired by the end of it. So when the act ended and the announcer said it was intermission, I was shocked. It had already been 90 minutes, and then Sarah showed me that Act III was another hour and that’s when we decided to leave.
The preview film here sure makes the play look hilarious. But I think we were just too confused to laugh.
Sorry actors, I really didn’t know what the hell was going on, and it didn’t deem it worth sticking around for.
On the plus side, the actors I mentioned were really good. And I loved the stage design. And, I am genuinely interested in reading this play just to see what the hell was actually going on in it. I am also interested in reading Bulgakov’ epic book The Master and Margarita, now that I’ve heard about it.
So, although I wouldn’t say the play was a success for me, I am certainly glad we went.
Oh, and the people sitting behind us were so unintentionally hilarious, that I wished their talk could have been recorded. They were practically like a Woody Allen movie. This one just bought an expensive car but is usually a cheapskate and doesn’t even own a TV. And this guy wants to buy a huge TV to watch movies on but he’s only going to do that over her dead body. It was awesome. And they had a whole subplot of the guy doing Argentinian tango and his muscle memory should keep him going at some upcoming recital even if he doesn’t remember the steps that well. I loved it. And I wanted to hear more from them!