Days of the Turbins is universally cited as the first really successful Soviet play. The Soviet theater in the early 1920’s, recovering from the civil war and reassessing its resources in the light of the new society, played mostly propaganda plays and nineteenth century classics in new interpretations. In its Moscow Art Theatre production, Mikhail Bulgakov’s play struck theatergoers as representing onstage the nature of the real experience through which they had lived. As a result, it was enormously successful, being performed almost a thousand times between 1926 and 1941, even with a hiatus from 1929 to 1932, when it was banned as politically unacceptable. It was reapproved for performance by Joseph Stalin himself. The play has since had new productions in various theaters across the former Soviet Union and has appeared onstage in Riga, Prague, London, and New York.
Its popularity with audiences gives one no idea of the hostile reception by Soviet critics. Only with great difficulty did Stanislavsky of the Moscow Art Theatre manage to gain official permission to stage it at all. The reluctant support of Anatoly Lunacharsky, then Commissar for People’s Enlightenment, who held that the play was politically unobjectionable, was able to counter the increasingly shrill objections of the censors from the Repertory Committee. These and other party critics held that the play glorified enemies of the Revolution, that there were no positive...
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