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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 15 | volume III | June-July, 2000



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 15June-July, 2000
Theatre Theory

The Post-Soviet Politician As Clown

Notes on Joseph Brodsky’s "Democracy"

p. 1
Joel Schechter

Baltic eels
    Portrait of Lenin drinking Classic Coke
    Russian bear (stuffed)
    Grouse in caviar gravy
    Handcuffs made in U.S.A.
    Cuban cigars

    These properties grace the stage of Joseph Brodsky’s play, Demoracy, which opens with lesders of an unnamed Eastern Europian country seated in the office of their Communist Party’s General Secretary-the man they call “gensec.” Comfortably enjoying the privileges of their high positions, which entitle them to imported melon, grouse, Cuban cigars, jazz, and (when needed) American handcuffs, they savor their repast until one more, nemely democracy, arrives rather unexpectedly.
    A telephone call from Moscow informs the Gensec, Basil Modestovich, that his small Soviet satellite has been declared a democracy. Panic erupts. The Gensec and his ministers know about French perfume, they appreciate handcuffs manifactured in Pitsburgh and jazz by Sidney Bechet, but they have no understanding of the democratic process. How could they, when their democracy is initiated from above, by another government, without the governed? The ministers have one choice: comply before Russian tanks force democracy upon them.
    The situation is a comic variation on independence declarations and the bizarre politics that accompainied them across Eastern Europe in 1989 and 1990, when Joseph Brodsky wrote his satiric play. The late poet’s comic portrait of a collapsing empire has proven all too accurate, even prophetic, as Russian itself now rivals that satellite invented in the play, and the folly of post-Communist govements across Eastern Europe imitates (or lives up to) his satire. It is unfortunate that the play has yet to be published in book form. (It was serialized in several journals before Brodsky’s death-and remains reatively unavailable to readers and stage directors.) I co-directed a production of the play with Chris Hampton at San Francisco State University in 1995 and now offer a few observaions on Demoracy in that its superb humor and poetry will be more widely appreciated in the future.
    The huge stuffed bear that hovers near the ministers of state in Demoracy suggests their offices are never far from the watchful gaze (not to mention the brute force) of the Kremlin, which this creature represents. But the animal is also a comic representative of Moscow-it could be a former circus performer-a fitting attribute, since the room is filled with clowns.
    Basil Modestovich and the ministers of justice, finance, and culture who dine with him display characteristics of clowns, as they comically debate whether they comically debate whether their unexpected democracy is Athenian, Socialist, People’s, or

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