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Authors: John Hodge

Collaborators (6 page)

BOOK: Collaborators
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Bulgakov
What?

Stalin helps him out of the chair and sits down himself.

He rolls up his sleeves. Smooths his hair.

Sucks on his pipe.

Stalin
There, that's better. Now: here we go . . .

And he's off. A real speed typist.

Bulgakov sits and watches.

Stalin continues typing, lost in thought, his lips moving silently as he types. The roller of the machine is fairly zinging back and forth.

Bulgakov drinks his vodka. He sits back.

Closes his eyes.

Stalin finishes.

He puts the typed sheets inside a large envelope and leaves this on the table beside Bulgakov.

Stalin opens the cupboard and disappears inside, pulling the door closed.

Bulgakov awakes. Disoriented at first.

He jumps up. Looks around. He is alone.

Checks his watch.

He sees the envelope.

He picks it up and looks inside.

He looks around. Goes to front of stage.

Flustered in the daylight.

Enter Yelena, Vasilly, Praskovya and Sergei around the table.

Vasilly
You mustn't worry, my dear. He'll be home soon.

Praskovya
More likely you will never see him again.

Sergei
I will go out and search, Comrade Madame Bulgakov.

Yelena
That's very kind of you, Sergei.

Sergei
And if he does not return, I will look after you for the rest of your life, like a son.

Yelena
That's also very kind, in its own way.

Bulgakov approaches, still holding the envelope.

Misha!

Bulgakov
What's wrong?

Yelena
Where have you been?

He hugs her.

Bulgakov
I went for a walk – to work.

Yelena
At night? At the Lubyanka?

Bulgakov
I couldn't sleep – Yelena, I think I've found a way –

Yelena
You could have left a note. I was worried.

Bulgakov
There's nothing to worry about. A way to do it – to write what they want. They can have this, and I'll have my work. I think it's all going to be all right!

A harsh knock.

Enter Vladimir and Stepan.

Vladimir
Bulgakov!

Bulgakov spins round, holding out the envelope.

Bulgakov
For you.

Vladimir takes it, a little put out at being trumped.

Vladimir
All right, everyone out except the artist.

Exit Vasilly, Praskovya and Sergei
(
into cupboard
).

Yelena remains.

Madame Bulgakov, good morning to you.

Yelena
Sergei!

Sergei
Comrade Madame Bulgakov?

She kisses Bulgakov on the cheek and steps into the cupboard.

She pulls it closed.

Vladimir
I tell you, that's not right.

Bulgakov
Are you going to read it or not?

Vladimir takes the pages out of the envelope.

He reads to himself.

I hope it meets with your approval.

Vladimir
It's . . . it's good. It's very good. I never doubted you. I knew you could do it. I love the way you capture the essence of the boy. His intelligence, his bravery – even as a child. It's moving. When Stalin sees this – I'll probably get a promotion.

Bulgakov
I'm very happy for you.

Vladimir
You keep writing. I'll start casting.

Bulgakov
Casting? All we have is one scene –

Vladimir
Mikhail, we have a deadline. There is so much to do! Sets, costumes, rehearsals –

Bulgakov
Yes, but, normally, there's a director involved.

Vladimir
There is a director involved.

He opens his arms wide.

Bulgakov says nothing.

You don't think I'm qualified? Go on, say it. Be as hurtful as you like.

Bulgakov
You're a secret policeman.

Vladimir
Is that all I am to you? That's how you think of me? Am I not allowed other qualities? Literary sensitivity, imagination, a willingness to explore ideas through sound and light, voice and motion? Stepan – do I not have literary sensitivity?

Stepan says nothing. His expression does not change.

You see? So it's decided then. Genius, Bulgakov.

Bulgakov
You're too kind.

Vladimir
No. I mean I'm a genius. For hiring you.

Vladimir exits, followed by Stepan.

Enter Stalin.

He sits at the table, feeds in a sheet and starts typing.

Bulgakov pulls on his coat.

He crosses to the desk where Stalin is still typing.

Stalin does not acknowledge Bulgakov until he has finished a passage and returned the roller.

Stalin
You're late.

Bulgakov
I'm sorry.

Stalin
Actually, I was early. Truth is, I wanted to be early, I wanted to get started. All day, I've been so excited. Couldn't think about anything else. So much more enjoyable than all that yackety-yak at the Politburo and Central Committee and God knows what else! When I was young, you know, I wrote poetry.

Bulgakov
Really?

Stalin
Yes. We Georgians, we're all poets.

Bulgakov
I'd love to read it some day.

Stalin
If I thought for one moment that you really meant that – I'd make you read it! But my guess is you'd sooner be tortured in the Lubyanka. I know I would!

Bulgakov forces a smile.

Isn't it wonderful to be creative?

Bulgakov
It is. Yes. To make something –

Stalin
– from nothing.

He pours two glasses of vodka. They toast.

To creativity.

Stalin slams down his glass and spools out the sheet of paper. Adds it to a few pages of manuscript.

So here's where I am. I've written another scene in the seminary. Young Joseph is the outsider – poor kid, wrong side of the tracks – who becomes the leader of the rebellion against the oppressive brutality of the priests.

Bulgakov
So you want to prefigure the events of the revolution.

Stalin
Exactly.

Bulgakov
To illustrate your – young Joseph's – precocity. His talent for organising.

Stalin
And inspiring.

Bulgakov
Of course. And inspiring.

Enter two Actors with a sack of props and costumes.

Stalin
Those bastards! They educated me, but they couldn't break me!

He hands the manuscript to Bulgakov.

Actor One
You bastards! You can educate me but you can never break me!

Exit Bulgakov and Stalin.

Enter Vladimir and Stepan.

Vladimir pulls up a chair and watches the actors.

Stepan lurks behind him, impassive.

Actor Two
You dog! How dare you speak to me like that! You think we'll let you get away with free thought! We'll beat it out of you, I swear to God we will!

Actor One
Never!

Actor Two beats Actor One.

Actor Two
There! Now spend some time in the punishment cell, you upstart proletarian! Son of cobbler!

Actor One stands and pulls on a cassock.

Actor One
This young Dzughashvili – he's a tough one.

Actor Two
Too tough. He combines righteous fury with piercing intellect.

Actor One
I've never met anything like him.

Actor Two
He's been reading Marx and converting his fellow students.

Actor One
We'll give him one more chance. If he won't give in . . .

Actor Two
I understand.

Actor One takes off the cassock.

All right, Joseph, this is your last chance. Renounce Marx, conform to our rules and pledge loyalty to the Tsar.

Actor One
Never. I cannot ignore the needs of the people. My path has been chosen. It is not an easy one but it is the right one.

Actor Two
Get out of here! You are expelled!

Enter Bulgakov. He watches.

Actor One
Don't worry. I'm leaving. And I promise – I'll never look back.

Exit Actors One and Two.

Vladimir
Bulgakov! Did you catch it?

Bulgakov
Just the end.

Vladimir
It's fantastic, Mikhail.

Bulgakov
You don't think it's a little too obviously . . .

Vladimir
What?

Bulgakov
Uncritical. I wouldn't want to overdo it.

Vladimir
You nailed the guy, Mikhail, you captured him. Every inflection feels so authentic. It's a work of art.

Bulgakov
I must admit, I do feel I've made contact with the character.

Vladimir
So what was it? I'm curious. What unlocked it for you?

Bulgakov
It just started to fall into place, really.

Vladimir
Our little chat in the cellars, perhaps?

Bulgakov
Perhaps.

Vladimir
I wouldn't like to think it was just that. I mean, I want you and I to have a rich and fruitful creative relationship and I appreciate that in my role as producer/director, I may have overstepped the mark in threatening to shoot your wife.

Bulgakov
Don't worry.

Vladimir
I feel bad about it.

Bulgakov
It's your working method.

Vladimir
Exactly. That's all. And for the record, in truth, I would never have shot Yelena.

Bulgakov
You wouldn't?

Vladimir
No. A mock execution, perhaps.

Bulgakov
Yes.

Vladimir
A whole series of bewildering, traumatic mock executions designed to leave her emotionally fractured and psychologically disabled. But never the live round.

Bulgakov
That's all the difference.

Vladimir
Isn't it just!

Bulgakov
You're going soft.

Vladimir
I wouldn't jeopardise the project.

A beat.

Bulgakov hands over the latest pages.

Now come on – I'll buy you breakfast.

Exit Vladimir with Bulgakov.

Stepan stands for a beat.

Then he follows as Praskovya enters.

She sits at the table.

Enter Vasilly in a bathrobe. Hair still wet. Full of joy.

Vasilly
Look at this! Look at me! Fresh from a bath! Hot running water! Gallons of the stuff!

Praskovya
It won't last.

Vasilly
I left the tap running just to check – if anything it was getting hotter. Practically a jet of steam –

Praskovya
Must be a mistake.

Vasilly
Providence, Praskovya! Justice!

He slides open the cupboard door and bellows in to a sleeping Sergei.

Long live the Revolution!

Sergei wakes. Tumbles out and to his feet.

Sergei
Is it time for work?

Vasilly
It is time for a bath, you unwashed proletarian!

He spins round.

And is it my imagination or is that . . .

Praskovya
It's coffee.

Vasilly
Yes!

Enter Bulgakov, carrying a large bunch of roses.

Enter Yelena from the other direction.

Yelena
Misha!

Bulgakov
My darling. For you.

She takes them.

Yelena
But where from?

Bulgakov
There was a woman selling them – just around the corner.

Yelena
But no one sells roses in Moscow in December!

Bulgakov
Smell them and tell me if they're not real.

They cross towards the bed.

Vasilly
Sergei! To the bath, Comrade!

He exits, pulling Sergei with him.

Praskovya
I'll get the soap.

She exits.

Yelena
You shouldn't.

Bulgakov
I should.

She kisses him.

Yelena
You look better, Misha.

Bulgakov
I feel no worse.

Yelena
Perhaps it's not . . .

Bulgakov
I'm not thinking about it. Let's not talk about it. Remember, I'm alive, you're alive, and so on.

He holds her hand.

They dance a few steps, making the music of their favourite tune.

They kiss.

They sit, then recline, on the bed.

The lights fade to moonlight.

BOOK: Collaborators
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