‘Revolutionary Repertoire’ by Anatoly Lunacharsky from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 2 No. 17. April 24, 1920.

Komosol members in an early agit-prop performance.

Commissar of Education Anatoly Luncharsky surveys recent performances and opines on the lack of suitable revolutionary theater in the early days of Soviet Russia in this marvelous snapshot of the world of art opened by the Revolution.

‘Revolutionary Repertoire’ by Anatoly Lunacharsky from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 2 No. 17. April 24, 1920.

IN my previous article I pointed out that there is an exceedingly small number of revolutionary plays, and an important problem of the Theatrical Department is to materially increase this number. We do have recourse, and in future will no doubt continue to fall back upon the practice of selecting plays through competitive channels, but we might as well admit at the outset, that, outside the sphere of the juvenile theatre, this method has thus far failed to give any appreciable results worthy of mention. We have read a number of manuscripts by new authors, as well as short plays published in the provinces, but up to date not one of them has struck my fancy, and I should indeed hesitate to recommend seriously any of these plays for stage presentation. We must wait and hope for new plays of revolutionary character.

Neither is foreign literature sufficiently rich to furnish us with revolutionary plays suitable to our needs, and those already translated into Russian can by no means be considered satisfactory in all respects. Of course, Verhaeren’s “Dawn” is a splendid work, but, having little scenic merit, it requires a good deal of rearranging. I have not seen yet an effective stage version of “Dawn,” but believe it quite possible and desirable that such a version should be prepared.

I have already written about “The Weavers,” and Buchner’s “Danton.” I am not acquainted with the new play, featuring a phase of Danton’s life, that is now being produced in Petrograd. As far as I could gather, our Petrograd comrades have given this play a rather cold reception.

A fairly satisfactory play (which I have not yet seen) is said to be the “Legend of a Communard,” produced by the Petrograd Heroic Theatre. Plays of proletarian life, such as Hauptmann’s “The Weavers,” Delle-Grazie’s “Miners,” and possibly Mirbeau’s “Les Mauvais Bergers,” can, with few reservations, be recommended for dramatic presentation at theatres frequented by workmen and Red Army soldiers. All these plays, however, concerned chiefly with the struggle of capital and labor in strikes, and representing thus a past phase, will hardly evoke a keen interest in the new theatre-goers.

With Boris Souvarine.

One still encounters in the Western literature a limited number of revolutionary plays not yet translated into Russian. These plays should be translated and at present the attention of the Repertoire Section has been especially turned to this field. I have been continually urging to obtain in the shortest possible time from abroad the following plays of profoundly revolutionary character, which must be translated into Russian: Barnevold’s “Cosmopolis,” Jules Romain’s “The Army in the City,” St. Jean de Bougelier’s “Slaves,” some plays of the dramatist-anarchist, Otto Borngreber, Sam Bennelli’s “Gorgons” and Hans Ganz’s “Morning.” Unfortunately, the plays just mentioned, which might be valuable material for the popular propaganda theatres, as well as for the State Experimental Theatre, have so far not only not been translated, but, in spite of all my efforts, have failed to be procured from abroad.

Among the plays that have been recently published by the Repertoire Section (prior to my assuming the directorship of the Theatrical Department) there are a few deserving special study.

First to be considered is Karl Gutzkow’s “Pugachev,” a masterful melodrama, highly adaptable to the stage, and, provided there is good acting, bound to evoke deep interest in a healthy popular audience. The play is not faultless and has a few serious defects: it is based on Russian history and life, and written by a man superficially acquainted with both. Consequently it produces a strange impression on the Russian reader, for there is in the play neither historical nor ethnographical truth.

At the unveiling of a monument to Garibaldi.

Still better is Potcher’s “Freedom.” This play the Theatrical Section recommended for performance during the “soviet propaganda day.” The State Publishing Department, at our request, pushed the publication of the play, but the book failed to make its appearance on time. However, we intend to make use of this play on other revolutionary holidays. The play possesses all the merits to make it become easily popular, especially for regional performances, performances at the front, etc. The Potcher play is written in the old revolutionary spirit and now and then French patriotism makes itself felt. However, since this patriotism originated in the fire of the Great Revolution, the patriotic sentiment may be forgiven.

The play is simple, unpretentious, and does not aspire to realism; yet it is highly artistic, scenic, very literary, and should be considered as one of the best revolutionary plays in our possession at this juncture.

I must confess, though not without a feeling of shame, that the translation of the play turned out by the Theatrical Section (of which I am the principal head), is rather poor. I have taken steps to assure that in future translations shall be executed with more care. G. Polyakov is a fine translator, but he evidently did the work in too great a hurry. At each turn one finds outrageous Gallicisms, which will break the tongue of any actor. It is to be hoped that the actors will correct this and change the absurd, purely French constructions into readable and simple Russian.

Very much less fortunate was the play “Lassalle,” by Sem-Benelli, just from the press. The author is a brilliant Italian dramatist. With Bracco (in his last play) they are considered the best dramatists of Italy and representative dramatic poets of Europe. The play, however, is technically weak. Historically it is sufficiently correct, but its psychology is primitive, the struggle of the personages is one continuous boring speech, the images are dull, and the action develops clumsily. In selecting the play a conspicuous circum- stance was considered: the play is from the pen of an eminent writer and is concerned with a great revolutionist; besides, it is written with warm sympathy for Lassalle. From a political standpoint, it is more or less perfect and to a certain extent we get a fine picture of Lassalle. Hence, there can be no objection to the production of the play. However, it seems to me that the play, owing to its literary and scenic defects, will hardly last long in the repertoire of the theatres that desire to become really popular.

Combining at this juncture my promise to explain the intentions which have guided the State Experimental Theatre in selecting plays with today’s task to point out some of the plays in the revolutionary repertoire, a few words should be said about “Diderot’s House,” a play obtained by me which will open our Experimental Theatre. I found this play quite by accident while rummaging among the books in the Yaroslav market. The translation of the play, whose author is altogether unknown to me, is by the well-known translator, Weinberg, and is brilliantly rendered in verse. The play was originally printed in 1875. In the 40 years that separate us from its first printing, no one has spoken about it, either here or in France. In France I heard nothing about it. And yet the play is excellent. In it are given very vivid characterizations of Diderot himself, his brother the abbe, and the famous insolent flunkey, Rameau, is painted in colors reminiscent of the portrait of the man as painted by Diderot himself. Not so good, but yet excellent, are the characterizations of Voltaire, Rousseau and others. The play is written in the charming style so peculiar to the French, in dialogues of sparkling verse, which makes it possible in a piquant episode of Diderot’s life to reveal to us all the depths of his soul, the difficulties of his vocation, and to evoke in the reader, and still better, in the spectator, the aspirations of youth. For, feelings of hope—hope for a spring that is to come, perhaps after the death of the first sparrows that herald the spring—runs through this charmingly clever play. Though the Revolution, in this play, is interpreted from the standpoint of a struggle with ignorance and religious bigotry, and in spite of the fact that in this play our northern Semiramis is revealed in a comparatively favorable light (and an historically true one), the play should, nevertheless, be added to the revolutionary repertoire.

We hope to be able to give at the State Experimental Theatre a more or less model performance, and thus, better than with a mere commendation, to introduce the play to a number of theatres in the capitals and provinces. A new edition of the play is forthcoming.

Soviet Russia began in the summer of 1919, published by the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia and replaced The Weekly Bulletin of the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia. In lieu of an Embassy the Russian Soviet Government Bureau was the official voice of the Soviets in the US. Soviet Russia was published as the official organ of the RSGB until February 1922 when Soviet Russia became to the official organ of The Friends of Soviet Russia, becoming Soviet Russia Pictorial in 1923. There is no better US-published source for information on the Soviet state at this time, and includes official statements, articles by prominent Bolsheviks, data on the Soviet economy, weekly reports on the wars for survival the Soviets were engaged in, as well as efforts to in the US to lift the blockade and begin trade with the emerging Soviet Union.

PDF of full issue: (large file): https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/srp/v4-5-soviet-russia%20Jan-Dec%201921.pdf

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