It turns out that Zhenya Berkovich’s graduation work at the Moscow Art Theater School was a production of Jean Anuy’s play “The Lark”. The content of the play is the trial of Joan of Arc. Zhanna tells her story at the church court. Then Berkovich staged the play “The Man Who Didn’t Work. The Trial of Joseph Brodsky” at the “Winzavode” based on Frida Vygdorova’s recording of the poet’s trial. And, finally, the notorious “Finist Yasny Sokol” – and here, too, the dialogue between the judge and the defendant runs through the thread. Transcripts of real court sessions are the basis. That is, a man has reproduced court proceedings on stage throughout his creative life.
In “The Lark” it is emphasized from the first minutes: everything you observe is not real. This is just a theater, a conventional stage, just an acting game. Actors appear before the audience in civilian clothes and choose the necessary accessories left over from the previous, maybe yesterday’s, performance. One says to the other: “Have you all gathered? It’s great, so we’ll proceed to our trial right away.” Another objected: “But, your lordship, it is necessary to play her whole story.”
On May 5, 2023, the judge of the Zamoskvoretsky district court of the city of Moscow, Natalya Cheprasova, sentenced the director (“the director”, as she calls herself) Zhenya Berkovich to custody. At the same time, her co-author, playwright Svetlana Petriychuk. And this did not happen on a conventional stage. It was not a theater. The judicial mantle was not on the actress, but on a real professional inquisitor. What was the crime of two young women? The crime was called the performance “Finist Yasny Sokol”, which the defendants staged in 2020, and then posted the recording on YouTube. The play tells about Russian women who were recruited by radical Islamists to travel somewhere in the Middle East through online correspondence. Finist Yasny Sokol is a laureate of two Golden Mask awards.
So, we failed in earlier times
I am an old man and I remember well the stagnant years, when it was difficult for the living word to make its way to the viewer, reader, and listener. Performances were censored, draining their essence. Successful performances were banned. Often the life of a performance ended at the dress rehearsal. But there was not a single case when a production that had been in existence for several years, and was crowned with the country’s most prestigious theater award, was declared not just harmful, but criminal. A criminal case was opened. They threw the creators into prison. There was no such thing. And it was not under Khrushchev. So, we failed in earlier times.
In the early 1930s, when Vsevolod Meyerhold’s theater went to Berlin with its performances, the actor Mikhail Chekhov, who had stayed in Germany during the tour a couple of years before, came to the director backstage. Chekhov later recalled: “I tried to convey to him my feelings, rather premonitions, about his terrible end if he returned to the Soviet Union. He listened silently, calmly and sadly answered me like this (I don’t remember the exact words): “I know, you right – my end will be as you say. But I will return to the Soviet Union.” To my question, “Why?” he answered: “Out of honesty.”
No one could (and still cannot) understand the motives of Zhenya Berkovich, who made a firm decision to stay in the country. After all, the clouds were thickening over her. Denunciations flew to all authorities. And she continued to write anti-war poems, participated in protest actions and concerts, stood up for “Memorial”. A criminal case was opened against her under the dreaded article 205.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Public calls for terrorist activity, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism.” From 2016 to this day, there has not been a single acquittal on this article in Russia. And this was the last call: “Caution, the doors are closing!”
It was still possible to jump out of the closing door. But she didn’t do it. Like Meyerhold – “out of honesty”?
Meyerhold is back. For some time, his theater continued to exist. Then the theater was closed, but the director was given the opportunity to stage in other places. Mostly operas. The tail was cut in parts. Finally an arrest. And a desperate application in the name of the chairman of the Soviet People’s Committee V.M. Molotov: “Vyacheslav Mykhailovych! You know my shortcomings… Tell me: can you believe that I am a traitor to the Motherland (an enemy of the people), that I am a spy, that I am a member of a right-wing Trotskyist organization, that I am a counter-revolutionary, that I practiced Trotskyism in my art, that I (knowingly) carried out hostile work in the theater in order to undermine the foundations of Soviet art?… I refuse to show myself as beaten out of me, and I beg you, the head of the Government, save me, give me back my freedom. I love my Motherland and will give it to her all my strength of the last years of my life.”
Don’t save. Didn’t return it. “Don’t turn me into Joan of Arc! I’m a girl, I want to go home…” Zhenya Berkovich wrote in a short note that was transmitted from the camera.
Anuya’s play ends well. Zhanna is not cremated. By order of the king, they spread the fire and untied it. The king announces: “The real end of Jeanne’s story, the real end that will never end, that will always be retold when our names are already forgotten or confused, is not a story about the troubles of an animal trapped in Rouen, but the story of a lark in heaven… The real end of history Joan is happy. Joan of Arc is a story that ends well!” Zhanna’s father: “I always said that our girl has a big future.” Curtain
But I have no confidence that this time everything will end well. That the monster will open its jaws and release the “director” to freedom. But I know for sure that “our girl has a big future.”
Andrey Malgin is a journalist and blogger
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