In the satire, written by “Trainspotting” screenwriter John Hodge, a series of unusual circumstances leads to the dictator writing a play about himself in Bulgakov’s name and the writer signing official decrees in Stalin’s name in return.
Although Bulgakov, author of the acclaimed novel “The Master and Margarita,” and Stalin never had such a relationship in real life, “Collaborators” references many actual events. For example, although the government eventually censored much of Bulgakov’s work, one of his early plays, “The White Guard,” was one of Stalin’s favorites (he saw it 15 times).
It’s also true that after all of Bulgakov’s work was banned in 1929, Stalin personally called Bulgakov and gave the writer a chance to continue working at the Moscow Art Theatre, likely in an effort to keep him from defecting.
“The most interesting historical fact is that Bulgakov actually did write a play about Stalin’s youth to celebrate Stalin’s 60th birthday, just like in ‘Collaborators,’ ” says Henrich, who is also the play’s director. Bulgakov was on his way to start rehearsals in Batumi, Georgia, the city where the dictator got his start as a revolutionary, when “he got a telegram, saying, ‘Forget it. The trip’s not worth it; come back to Moscow.’ The play was never finalized or performed,” Henrich says.
As much as “Collaborators” focuses on themes of freedom of expression and artistic integrity, it also creates a dreamlike atmosphere, similar to the ones the real Bulgakov constructed in his writing.
“My take on the play is that it’s about the conflict of imagination and the restrictions we impose upon ourselves,” Henrich says. “It gives us the opportunity to play with reality,” by putting an artist in power, for example, or showing the character of Stalin as somewhat affable — at least on the surface.
“It feels like you’re dreaming while you’re awake.”
Spooky Action Theater, 1810 16th St. NW; through March 6, various times, $25-$35.
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