Vassily Aksyonov uses his dramatic works as vehicles for criticism of the Soviet government and Soviet society, which did not endear him to the authorities of his native land. All five of his plays are heavily satirical, holding the follies and foibles of his targets up to ridicule, often indirectly through comedic stereotypes. Yet the actual targets of his wit remain obvious enough to offend the powers that be in an authoritarian society. Therefore, only one of his plays, Vsegda v prodazhe, was produced within the Soviet Union. Director Olega Efremov staged the drama in Moscow’s Sovremennik Theater in 1965. Plans were made to stage three of his other plays in the Soviet Union, but none of these plans were realized. The Heron was produced abroad, in Paris in 1984.
Attempts to publish his plays met with similar difficulty. In 1977, Your Murderer was published abroad. In 1979 Aksyonov published The Four Temperaments in the literary almanac Metropol, of which he was an editor. Because Aksyonov published Metropol in defiance of Soviet censorship, he was exiled to the United States. However, his play The Heron was published in the journal Kontinent later that year. In 1981 a collection of his plays was published by Hermitage, a Russian emigré publishing house.
Aksyonov’s work has consistently shown a strong awareness of his literary predecessors, including such specifically Russian playwrights as Yury Olesha and Mikhail Bulgakov, but also dramatists of other cultures and ages. Aksyonov has described The Heron as a “paraphrase” of Anton Chekhov’s Chayka (pr. 1896, rev. pr. 1898; The Seagull, 1909), but the play also is heavily informed by Tri sestry (pr., pb. 1901, rev. pb. 1904; Three Sisters, 1920), another of Chekhov’s well-known dramatic works. Aristofaniana s lygushkami directly borrows the plots of two plays by the ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes, namely Batrachoi (405 b.c.e.; The Frogs, 1780) and Lysistrat (411 b.c.e.; Lysistrata, 1837), and even quotes whole lines from the originals. Although The Heron can be understood without any reference to the Chekhov plays, it is essential to have some familiarity with the works of Aristophanes to appreciate Aristofaniana s lygushkami.
Vsegda v prodazhe
In Vsegda v prodazhe, the young mining engineer Treugolnikov returns to Moscow to confront an old friend, Kistochkin. The action takes place primarily in the apartment house in which Kistochkin has created his own private empire, corrupting those with whom he deals. There are hints that he is not human at all but an alien from another dimension. When a young neighbor asks an innocent question about unidentified flying objects (UFOs), Kistochkin panics guiltily. However, Treugolnikov manages to rally the other tenants, and they rebel against Kistochkin’s control. Kistochkin then flees in a UFO.
The first of the two brief epilogues shows Kistochkin’s dimension, in which the inhabitants have been reduced to robotlike slaves under the tyranny of him and his epicene assistant, the Waitress. The second shows Treugolnikov’s world, in which humanity and love have triumphed, and Kistochkin, cut off from the source of his malevolent power, has become a courteous keeper of a food kiosk.
The play is rich with political meaning, particularly the criticism of tyranny and those who support it. Kistochkin can be seen as one of the “heirs of Stalin,”...
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