Monday, January 17, 2011

Black Snow

I am enjoying Bulgakov's Black Snow, which is more or less a biographical account of the process of making his early book, The White Guard, into a play.  But, he spends most of the time satirizing the Moscow Art Theatre, which he dubs the International Theatre (IT) in this book.  His prime target appears to be Stanislavsky, who Michael Glenny notes in his forward Bulgakov characterized as an "old bitch."  Seems Bulgakov and Stanislavsky came to odds over his story Moliere, which Stanislavsky drastically revised into a play.  But, in this story Bulgakov focuses mostly on his first foray into playwriting and the personages he faced at the IT.

Bulgakov has great fun with Stanislavsky in the second half of the book, as the old man takes a cleaver to his play.  The scene where Maxudov visits Ivan Vasilievich (Stanislavsky) in his home is hilarious, especially as Bombardov had described in detail exactly what would happen, but Maxudov chose to ignore the actor just the same.  Seems that Stanislavsky had a great fear of gunshots (probably for good reason) and so when Maxudov insists on keeping the suicide on the bridge in his play, Stanislavsky has little interest in the budding playwright.  Bombardov tells Maxudov later that you have agree with everything he says, but you don't necessarily have to do it.

While fascinating to read, it isn't one of his better books.  The writing is uneven and the satire falls flat so many years after Bulgakov's stint with the Moscow Art Theatre.  It is interesting more from a historical point of view as the book provides a glimpse into the machanizations of 1920s Soviet theatre.  Bulgakov was successfully able to turn The White Guard into a play.  The Days of the Turbins was one of the most successful early Soviet plays despite its positive portrayal of White Russians during the civil war.

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