May 11, 1990
Bulgakov in Foreign Territory
by: Linda Winer
1926 satire by Mikhail Bulgakov, directed by Boris Morozov, translated by
Nicholas Sanders and Frank Dwyer. With Linda Thorson, Bronson Pinchot,
Robert LuPone, Chandra Lee, Akira Takayama, Ernest Abuba, Lauri Landry.
Sets by James Morgan, costumes by Cynthia Doty, lights by Mary Jo Dondlinger.
Circle in the Square, 50th Street west of Broadway, Manhattan.
Last year, Theodore Mann went to Moscow to
direct "Night of the Iguana" at the historic Maly Theater. In
exchange, Boris A. Morozov, a Maly resident director, has directed Mikhail
Bulgakov's "Zoya's Apartment" at Mann's Circle in the Square.
One wonders, especially now, what the Russians might have made of ripe Tennessee
Williams on a seamy Mexican beach, because "Zoya," which opened last
night, has not traveled well at all.
Perhaps the social satire, with its sex,
drugs and anti-bureaucratic attitude, seemed terribly wicked in 1926, three
years before officials banned Bulgakov from stage and publications. Maybe
it has more than curiosity value to the Soviets today. Perhaps
Morozov, who speaks no English, has not been able to communicate the work's
hidden charms to his American actors, or maybe he tried, but the expansive
farcical style is beyond most of them.
Whatever, at 2 hours and 45 minutes,
"Zoya" is very long for what feels like a very short story.
Bulgakov, best known in the West for such novels as "Heart of a Dog"
and "The Master and the Margarita," tells us about a formidable woman
named Zora (Linda Thorsten) (sic), who turns her six-room apartment into a
high-class bordello while trying to keep it from being taken over by the
"space reduction" committee.
She has a lover (Robert Lupone), a former
count and morphine addict who mopes around with the disaffection of lost
aristocracy, and a former lover (Bronson Pinchot), a con man who arrives in
tatters. Pinchot, who plays the Greek cousin in "Perfect
Strangers," takes the stage with his familiar exhilarated sense of his own
delight. He literally jetes across the Circle's impossibly long
stage, tosses his long bony arms into the air and delivers his lines with a
wisecracking off-handedness that, while amusing, seems thoroughly contemporary
Meanwhile, Thorston (sic) -- the very
stylish Canadian-born actress -- talks with an English accent, wears a 20's
dress and 90's hair. LuPone, who looks sullen very well, talks English but
sings in Russian. Most horrifying of all, however, are the dated Chinese
caricatures, called "Chinamen," who do laundry, get bawdy with the
maid, skulk around with knives, talk chop-chop and deal drugs.
The cast gamely covers a lot of space on
the stage, takes big steps, and laughs with wild hysterical fakery, though Lauri
Landry does have a quiet glamour as the destitute aristocrat who sells herself
to Zoya's house. The set, adapted for the troublesome long rectangular
stage from Russian designs, is a mansion-size span of Oriental rug with huge
doors at the far end.
Much is made at first about what seem to
be Zoya's mystic powers, but the metaphysical struggle is dropped after
intermission in favor of the bordello escapade. The translation includes
such weird infelicities as "mosey on over" and "Don't pop your
Chinese eyes at me." It is not clear whether a coherent style had
been attempted and lost or never tried at all. Nor is it clear that one
would have mattered.