Life Is Beautiful
Ivan Vazov National Theatre of Bulgaria, Sofia
premiere 6 March 2012, Main stage
Translator and stage
Nikolai Erdman's "The Suicide"
Julia Ognyanova, Alexander Morfov
180 min., with intermission
"Limber-up!": Vesselin Vesselinov - Eko, Mihail Shishkov Jr., Nivilian Gemidzhev, Nikolay Temniskov, Danail Totev
Kamen Donev, Renny Vrangova, Svetlana Yancheva, Plamen Peev, Albena Koleva, Roussi Chanev, Stephania Koleva, Teodor Elmazov, Darin Angelov, Deyan Angelov, Valentin Tanev, Pavlin Petrunov, Bilyana Petrinska, Yordan Petkov, Emil Markov, Stefan Kashev, Lubomir Petkashev, Vyara Tabakova, Valentin Balabanov, Albena Stavreva, Vladislava Nikolova, Vasilena Getskova, etc.
"The Suicide" is most probably the play that faced the communist censorship the longest - 60 years of ultimate ban. The text was written in 1928 and first staged in 1987 in the USSR. It is called "The Government Inspector" of the XX-th century and Erdman is often compared with Gogol and Sukhovo-Kobylin. Two theatres are competing in staging the play - Meyerhold's Theatre and MXAT (Moscow Art Academy Theatre). Meyerhold, Stanislavsky, Lunacharsky, Gorky and Bulgakov all unite in support of "The Suicide" but all efforts prove to be futile.
Erdman wrote the play at the age of 28 and it is his last play. In 1933 he is exiled in Eniseisk for "counterrevolutionary literary works" and later released under special regime - he is deprived of his right to establish in any of the 10 big cities in the USSR, including Moscow. In spite of that, he is the scriptwriter of some of Stalin's favourite films - "Merry Boys" and "Volga, Volga". His name, though, is erased from the titles of those films. In 1948 he receives the Stalin premium award "Brave Men" but this is not considered as a legitimate reason to lift the ban from "The Suicide". The play was first staged in Russia several years after Erdman's death.
A Russian black comedy of the twenties, 'The Suicide' satirises the plight of an unemployed man, desperate enough to contemplate ending it all. The play considers the nature of humour; the hearts of the self-centred characters who will use anyone to further their own selfish aims; and the triumph of the individual, who keeps his dignity in a society where the slogan "for each and all" echoes emptily. For Semyon, only the prospect of death can give the individual the freedom to act and speak as he wishes. ~ Jo German
Renny Vrangova and Kamen Donev
Semyon Semyonich Podsekalnikov is an ordinary man fighting life's difficulties as best as he can. Unfortunately, he has been unsuccessful so far as he is jobless and moneyless. He shares a household with his wife and her mother and conflicts are often, though love and affection are clearly part of this family. Semyon has a dream of which his wife and to some extent his mother-in-law are supportive - he wants to learn to play the tuba. This dream is a promise of a better life, full of money, fame and happiness, but most importantly - a life that will permit him to take good care of his family. He is so obsessed with the idea that his wife manages to save some money and rents a tuba for him to practice. Practice turns into a disaster - he is unable to produce even a single tone, let alone a certain note or a whole musical phrase. He follows the instructions in the booklet about reaching exact notes and comes to know that in order to continue practicing he would need to buy a piano. The prohibiting price of a second musical instrument throws him back to even more severe depression and Semyon decidedly attempts suicide. But he is startled by a man in the room. The noble stranger turns out to be sent as a speaker of the intellectual elite with the mission to convince Semyon to not simply kill himself, but to kill himself for a cause and turn his own death into a symbolic act of protest against the miserable state of the Russian intellectual elites.
The news that there is a man who is decided to commit suicide spreads rapidly. People representing all kinds of professions and causes are now coming to visit Semyon and trying to convince him to kill himself in the name of all sort of ideas - in the name of romantic love, in the name of Venus, in the name of the butchery, etc. Those guests are so convincing and needy that they even agree to certain compromises: they are all going to have their suicide notes signed by Semyon who ends up signing 18 of them. He is promised the best possible celebration of his act, beforehand of course, as well as that his family will be taken good care of.
In the heat of the party when he is supposed to shoot himself Semyon suddenly realises that "life begins 30 min. before we die". Severely drunk, he manages to escape the enthusiastic crowd and hides behind a tree where he produces a misleading gunshot and falls into sleep drunk. In the meanwhile his wife and mother-in-law receive the news that Semyon Semyonich is now dead and his suicidal act is highly appreciated by the society and its causes, and he will be given an honourable burial - one that a heroe of his grandeur deserves. The funeral procession brings in the coffin with the "dead" man inside and leaves it at the house until the ceremony begins.
What a surprise it is for the two grieving women when the man raises from his coffin-comfort with a terrible hangover and truely convinced that he is dead and standing in front of heaven's door!
A production full of laughter, sadness, social responsibility, deep philosophy and, not least, love for life as difficult as it might be.
During communist years our parents were very happy. What made them happy were those little, ordinary, small joys, human relations that make life real. Back then we didn't have this ambition, this lust for money, the strive for luxurious possessions, expensive cars, apartments and mansions. We did notice that there were some people who could afford that, probably at our expense, too. There were also those who were discontent with that situation but the ordinary man lead a happy life because he was trying to isolate himself from life's injustices. Not everyone is born a rebel, a revolutioner, not everyone has those skills - so what's left for you? Spending a life full of envy? No! Your life would be wasted, it would turn into venom, into green irony, it would be a senseless life. We better look into the eyes of the people we love, feel their hands, enjoy the little things we have - that's what life's about. It can be truely beautiful!
Alexander Morfov, interviewed by Yordan Georgiev | Alma Mater Radio
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NOMINATIONS & AWARDS:
Nomination for "Icarus" Annual Theatre Award 2013, given by the Union of Bulgarian Actors - Alexander Morfov, Stage Director of the Year
Nomination for "Askeer" Annual Theatre Award 2012 - Svetlana Yancheva, Leading Female Role of the Year (Serafima Ilinichna)
"Icarus" Annual Theatre Award 2013 - Kamen Donev, Leading Male Role (Semyon Semyonich Podsekalnikov)
"Askeer" Annual Theatre Award 2012 - Kamen Donev, Leading Male Role (Semyon Semyonich Podsekalnikov)
Annual award given by the Society of theatre critics in Bulgaria - Svetlana Yancheva for her role of Serafima Ilinichna in "Life is Beautiful"
" If there is anyone who can turn the theatre stage into an epicenter of loud, noisy, celebration full of lively nonchalance and desperate optimism, his name is Alexander Morfov. In his productions feast, music and joy always erupt unexpectedly, seemingly out of place, and inevitably with an immense power that instantly overflows around, raises up to the sky and sweeps away greyness of daily life, despair, unfulfilled dreams and unreached lives. It transforms into a symbol of revelry of the desperate. In his new production the director stages Nikolai Erdman's comedy of absurd "The Suicide" as an optimistic grotesque. This play is not about suicide anymore. It is a devotion to life, a man rediscovers life.
Life Is to Be Beautiful | Svetlana Pancheva, duma.bg, 10.03.2012
video: Yavor Vesselinov