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Authors: John Hodge

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BOOK: Collaborators
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It is their tune.

She looks at her husband. He cannot meet her gaze.

He turns away.

The music plays.

Yelena turns and walks away. She exits.

Bulgakov stands alone.

The music plays on.

After a while, it sticks.

The needle jumps, over and over.

Bulgakov walks across to the gramophone.

He lifts the stylus. Removes the record.

Enter the two Actors. They busy themselves with their sack of props and costumes.

Vladimir and Stepan follow as before.

Bulgakov approaches.

Vladimir
I'm being followed.

Bulgakov
Isn't everyone?

Vladimir
Of course, that's normal – but now I'm really being followed.

Bulgakov
Is there a difference?

Vladimir
Yes – of course there is! It's . . . You wouldn't understand.

Bulgakov
I don't.

Vladimir
You've changed.

Bulgakov
Have I?

Vladimir
That man we arrested. Do you think he was guilty?

Bulgakov
You said he was.

Vladimir
Forget what I said.

Bulgakov
He had objective characteristics.

Vladimir
Forget them. Do you think he was guilty?

Bulgakov
He confessed, didn't he?

Vladimir
He confessed. Yes. To Stepan.

Bulgakov
Well, there you are.

Vladimir
So did his wife.

A beat.

There we are.

A beat.

How do you feel about the play? About your play?

Bulgakov
What does it matter what I think of it? If I like it or don't like it, so what? I'm doing it so that my play
Molière can be performed again.

Vladimir
I want your critical assessment.

Bulgakov
All right. It's a . . . solid, if unflashy piece of drama. An effective account of . . .

Vladimir
Bullshit! You expect me to believe that? From the man who wrote
The White Guard, you're telling me that's your opinion on this?

Bulgakov remains silent.

You've convinced yourself, have you? Of what else have you convinced yourself?

Bulgakov
I still stand opposed to everything you represent.

Vladimir
Sure you do.

A pause.

Vladimir stares at him.

Bulgakov breaks it off.

He walks away. Sits down at the table.

Exit Vladimir, Stepan, the two Actors.

Bulgakov sits alone a moment.

Enter Stalin with a large bundle of files under each arm.

He drops them with a thump on to the desk.

Stalin
I'm not happy about this.

Bulgakov
About what?

Stalin
About what? Well, it only turns out that the entire USSR is riddled with traitors. That within every single institution: the Party, the army, academia, culture, science, industry, and so on – there are millions – yes, millions – of spies, traitors, wreckers, counter-revolutionaries, and Trotskyite capitalist bourgeois Tsarists!

A beat.

And it's all your fault.

Bulgakov
My fault!

Stalin
‘Make further enquiries.'

Bulgakov
What?

Stalin
That's what you wrote.

Bulgakov
Yes, I did, but –

Stalin
– and this is what happens! A conspiracy beyond the human imagination. Your creation, Mikhail!

Bulgakov
That's not really fair. I mean, just because my instruction uncovered it – that doesn't make me responsible. Does it?

Stalin
I would have let sleeping dogs lie.

Bulgakov
But Joseph –

Stalin
Each confession leads to another fifty. It's an exponential catastrophe!

Bulgakov
I'm sorry! I didn't mean this to happen.

From the stacks of papers, Stalin grabs several at random. Reads from them.

Stalin
Consider the following, uncovered only this morning. There are students in Leningrad who plan to assassinate me. An aeronautical engineer in Novosibirsk who designs planes that crash. A Kazakh dairy worker puts nails in the butter, and a vet in the Ukraine poisons twenty million horses. Practically every employee on the trans-Siberian railway spies for Japan. An industrial commissar in Magnitogorsk spends every waking hour orchestrating the production of defective steel. And thousands upon thousands of people freely engage in rootless cosmopolitanism.

Bulgakov
Sorry?

Stalin
Being Jewish. And spying for Germany.

Bulgakov
Is that likely?

Stalin
It's possible. Anything is possible. But you know what's scary – what's really scary – is they're all connected.

Bulgakov
Are you certain of that?

Stalin
You think I'm making it up?

Bulgakov
No!

Stalin
What am I going to do?

Bulgakov
I don't know . . .

Stalin
You don't know?

Bulgakov
No.

Stalin
OK . . . I'll deal with it myself. I'll sift through them, one by one, confession by confession, network by network, step by step, for as long as it takes, because – you understand, of course – there's no one else I can trust. I'll do this. You finish the play.

He swivels the typewriter round so that it faces Bulgakov.

Now Stalin starts work. He snatches at sheets of paper from the stacks of files.

Scrawls in the margins, cross-references, compares, places the sheets in new piles, rearranges, etc.

While doing so, he mutters to himself.

After a little while, he notices that Bulgakov has not moved at all.

I'd get a move on, if I was you, Mikhail. Time is running out. The play has to be ready for the twenty-first. And of course, if there's no play, there's no deal. No deal, no
Molière
. No
Molière
, no future. No point to anything. Is there?

Bulgakov
I can't.

Stalin
Of course you can.

Bulgakov
I can't.

Stalin
But you're the talented playwright! You're the man who wrote
The White Guard!

Bulgakov watches Stalin absorbed in his task.

Bulgakov
I can't write this. I never could. I need your help.

Stalin
Sorry! Busy! Big conspiracy!

He continues, muttering and whistling to himself.

Bulgakov
Joseph . . . Please . . .

No response.

(
Eventually.
) General Secretary, you need a system.

Stalin stops immediately.

Stalin
A what?

Bulgakov
A system.

Stalin
A system! Of course! So what's that for?

Bulgakov
To make the process logical. You see, at the moment, you've got all these confessions – it's overwhelming. But if the conspiracy exists –

Stalin
Which it does –

Bulgakov
Yes – and the resources to deal with it –

Stalin
– are inherently undermined by the conspiracy itself.

Bulgakov
Yes . . . Then the key is to say: right, let's solve so many cases, out of the total.

Stalin
A quota?

Bulgakov
Yes, a quota of cases to be resolved. Concentrate on these, break the links, what's left is nothing. These individuals – students, engineers, politicians, rootless . . . whatever – on their own – harmless.

Stalin
The individuals don't matter?

Bulgakov
In a manner of speaking.

Stalin thinks it over.

He gathers up all his loose sheets of paper. He taps them together and drops them on top of one of the stacks of files.

He smiles.

Stalin
You see. It wasn't so difficult after all. Not for a clever guy like you. ‘A system,' he says. A system! The simplicity! The genius. You may . . .

He twirls a finger towards the typewriter.

Bulgakov swivels it back round towards Stalin.

Thank you.

He begins typing.

Only friends can do that. Men who respect each other.

He types some more, then pauses.

Is there anything that I can do for you?

Bulgakov
Well, actually, there is. It's a favour for me, well – for a friend.

Stalin
The young writer?

Bulgakov
Yes.

Stalin
Having trouble? Some over-zealous, nit-picking bureaucrat doesn't know talent when he sees it?

Bulgakov
That's right.

Stalin
Consider it dealt with. From now on – every word that young man writes is to be published.

Bulgakov
Thanks. That'll mean a lot to him.

Stalin
It's the least I can do. I owe you so much. And what's more, Mikhail, I've enjoyed it.

He holds out the customary large envelope of script.

Bulgakov takes the envelope.

Bulgakov
Thanks.

Bulgakov walks away.

Stalin puts the unlit pipe in his mouth.

Exit Stalin.

Enter Yelena and Anna.

They are at the table as Bulgakov approaches.

Sorry to – I've been working all night. Coffee?

Anna
How's it going?

Bulgakov
Fine. I mean it's nearly finished.

Anna
Is it good?

Bulgakov
Not for me to say. The audience will decide. They always do.

Anna
Surely you have a view.

Bulgakov
I think it's too early to say.

Anna
Is there anything you do have a view on any more, Mikhail?

Bulgakov
What is this? Yelena?

Yelena
Anna has something to tell you.

Anna
They have destroyed him.

Bulgakov
What? Grigory? No – it's all right. I have it on good authority – he's going to be unbanned. Rehabilitated. They're going to review his previous work, but from now on, anything he writes – anything – is guaranteed publication. Guaranteed!

Anna
He's written this.

She holds a single sheet of paper, typed on one side.

Bulgakov
What's that?

Enter Grigory. He stands apart.

Anna
‘I have failed in my most basic duty to support the Revolution. I have created works that glorify the bourgeois and deny the rightful role of the proletariat. I have betrayed the faith of the people and it is only fitting that my work should cease to be published or read.'

What do you think this is?

Bulgakov
It's his self-criticism. I told him not to write it. In any case, the situation has been resolved –

Anna
Oh yes, it certainly has. This is more than a critique.

Bulgakov is silent.

He approaches Anna and takes the note.

Grigory
‘Like a parasite upon the body of the nation, I have sucked nourishment but given nothing in return. I have distorted truth, corrupted minds, and incited counter-revolution. My guilt is no less for my confession and I accept my punishment as both fitting and lenient.'

Grigory produces a revolver.

Bulgakov
Oh, God. No.

Grigory shoots himself. Falls dead to the floor.

Anna
Publish anything he writes from now on. That's a funny joke. Grigory would have liked it. He always said your greatest talent was for comedy.

Anna stands up and exits.

The two Actors enter to remove Grigory's body.

Bulgakov and Yelena are alone now.

Yelena
Sergei's gone.

Bulgakov says nothing.

He went out, to work.

Bulgakov
And never came back.

Yelena
No.

Bulgakov
How strange it all is.

A beat.

Yelena
Mikhail, what have you done?

She exits.

Enter Stalin.

Stalin sits, typing and laughing.

Bulgakov sits. He does nothing.

Stalin stops. Looks up.

He gets up and pours a vodka for Bulgakov.

He places a slim file on the desk in front of Bulgakov.

He returns to his seat and resumes typing.

Bulgakov's gaze falls on the slim file.

His attention grows. He takes the top sheet and studies it intently.

Stalin
Now what do you think of this? We're in the private apartments of Tsar Nicholas the Second. He's got this canary that sings the national anthem. That's sort of a metaphor – you think it's too heavy-handed? Brainless bird in cage sings national anthem? Anyway, I like it for now – we can take it out later if we don't like it –

BOOK: Collaborators
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ads

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