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Laughing Through The Tears

ae BlackSnowCabrillo’s ‘Black Snow’ puts protagonist through series of unfortunate events; hilarity ensues

Reality and satire are the same,” said dissenting Soviet writer Vladimir Voinovich in reference to his country.

“I thought that was a great quote,” says David Ohanesian, dramaturg at Cabrillo College Theater Arts. “It made me think about today in the United States, and I was thinking about how many of us get our news and our sense of American life through satiric comedies these days—and how it almost makes it easier to swallow the indignities.”

It’s also a quote that applies particularly well to “Black Snow,” Cabrillo College Theater Arts’ fall production. The play—which runs Nov. 2-18—is a comedy that follows a playwright’s ill-fated collaboration with a legendary theater director in a climate of government oppression.

As it turns out, the play draws heavily upon its own origins. “Black Snow”—adapted into a play by American playwright Keith Reddin in 1993—is based on the fictionalized memoir of Mikhail Bulgakov, a Soviet Russian writer and playwright who was active in the first half of the 20th century.

“He had a big 10-year interlude working with the Moscow Art Theatre, but by 1929 his plays were banned by the Soviet Bolsheviks,” explains director Robin Aronson. “So then finally he wrote a letter to Stalin basically saying, ‘My plays can’t get produced, I’m being destroyed, I’m facing destitution and death.’”

Stalin answered Bulgakov’s plea by sending him back to the Moscow Art Theatre. “And then he just had this hellacious four-year experience trying to get one play produced by the theatre, and the rehearsals never ended, and they could never get the play up; when they finally did it lasted for seven performances, and then the censors shut it down again,” says Aronson. “Whether it’s the critics, the censors, or the theater practices of the time, this poor oppressed playwright is just completely demolished—but he took his pain and created a satire.”

The element of satire bridges the gap between the play’s period setting and the audience’s modern context. “In Bulgakov’s time, you couldn’t make any overt political comments; you had to do it through satire,” says Ohanesian. “There is something contemporary in the portrayal of the sort of machine that this guy has fallen into.”

The most noticeable departure from the text in Cabrillo’s adaptation of “Black Snow” is the decision to split the main character of Sergei—the Bulgakov figure—into two separate parts. “The way the play is structured, the character narrates his own experience, so in the course of the play he’s both living the experience and narrating the experience,” says Aronson, who used that distinction to split the character into narrator-Sergei and participant-Sergei.

“You can tell that my character is relating it as a past event,” says Davis Banta, who plays the narrator-Sergei. “So he knows these outcomes and what they’re going to lead to, whereas Alex [the other Sergei]’s character is still naïve, and so it’s kind of playing with the dichotomy of where we’re coming from—sometimes I relive a scene with a sense of what it’s going to lead to, or when a plot element happens it’s hitting him hardest because it’s for the first time.”

Considering “Black Snow” is a play about the theater, it makes sense that the cast and crew would be able to relate to the narrative. What’s interesting is how the process of producing a play informs the actual performance of it. “This is a very large ensemble piece—we’re cramming about 18 people plus tech into a smaller space, so sometimes it’s a little chaotic, but that also kind of lends to the sense of chaos that’s inherent in the play,” says Banta.

But everyone—not just actors—can relate to the desire to see one’s life’s work through to completion, and furthermore, to see that work appreciated. “I think of Mikhail Bulgakov,” says Aronson. “Of his dying in disappointment, and feel somehow that he is with us, that he actually knows what we’re doing and is happy and proud that his story is being told, that his work is alive in the world, and that audiences can enjoy it at last.” 


“Black Snow” runs Nov. 2-18 at the Cabrillo College Black Box Theater, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. $19/general, $17/seniors and students, $12/under 10. 479-6154. Visit cabrillovapa.com. Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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