Putting Bakunin (back) on stage
Bakunin’s life of a revolutionary is rather well-known. Both his sympathizers and enemies admit that he was an archetypical rebel who lived a very dramatic and fascinating life, although judgements of his person and activities vary widely. Strangely though, even as he was portrayed on some occasions by novelists and playwrights, for some reason we would have trouble recalling major literary works devoted to his life. Most recently, Bakunin was among the characters in Tom Stoppard’s epic theatrical saga The Coast of Utopia, which was staged by various theatrical groups in the United States, the UK, Japan, Russia and Italy. But for all Stoppard’s undeniable talent in presenting Russian literature and history to the modern audience, one cannot but notice that his treatment of Herzen and Russian revolutionary intelligentsia is rather biased, if not cruel and satirical. Let alone Bakunin, who was turned into a pure caricature in The Coast of Utopia!
Ironically, about the same time as Stoppard was writing and putting on stage his three-piece 10-hour saga about Herzen, Bakunin, Turgenev, Belinsky, Marx and other notorious members of European revolutionary circles of the XIXth century, in Pryamukhino, Bakunin’s own native village, another man was working on his own theatrical plays about the notorious Russian rebel.
Sergey Kornilov, a retired theatre director, writer and now also the caretaker of Pryamukhino park and estate, wrote consequently three theatrical pieces, which traced Bakunin’s life through several crucial moments.
The first of these, Nature’s Call, shows Bakunin as a young philosopher, preaching grand ideas of the German philosophers to his friends and trying to break free from the weight of old traditions and beliefs, including those of his own father. In the second play, Fantasia Waltz, we meet Bakunin and his family in one of the most tragic moments of his life as he visits Pryamukhino just for a single day, strictly guarded by the gendarmes on the way to Siberia. (One cannot escape drawing parallels to the modern Russian police state, because, as one of the writers put it, “in Russia everything changes each ten years, but nothing has changed in two hundred years”.)
The third of these plays, Finita, gives us a portrait of Bakunin as an old man, dying, but not yet completely crushed, who looks back at his life of struggle and tragic failures. Weathered, wise and lonely among his family and comrades, he speaks of some of his bitter realizations and dreams that hadn’t come true, gives prophetic predictions for future and witnesses petty rivalries between his disciples (some of whom take him as a prophet, scribbling every word that he pronounces, but unable to really grasp the essence of his philosophy, others, illiterate, but really getting the point)… These are in short some of the subjects of Finita, written in the best traditions of Russian drama (here Chekhov comes to mind). Probably the best of the three pieces written by Kornilov, this is a play in two acts, involving a dozen characters. If put on stage, it could become a really moving tribute to Bakunin. But who will take the challenge and play it?
We are now looking forward to establish contacts with some theatrical groups in the ex-USSR, who might be interested in taking this play on stage. But so far the progress was not very promising – Bakunin is more known and appreciated abroad, than in his own country.
All of the three plays in Russian are available for download here:
Finita is now being translated into English and will be available to readers some time in January 2014.
If you or somebody that you know is interested in making a theatrical performance of it, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Please, spread the word!
Any possible assistance in further translating Kornilov’s plays into other languages will also be very much appreciated.
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