Best plays of Mikola Zarudny

One of the most prolific playwrights in Ukraine today is Mikola Zarudny, the author of more than thirty plays. His Rainbow, Antaeuses, The Island of Your Dreams, Fortuna, Pardon, but We're Without Makeup, The Time of Yellow Leaves and The Rear have been either published or produced at theatres in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Rumania and Cuba. The interpretations of his plays have brought fame to many Soviet actors and directors, and have been linked with the successes of several generations of Ukrainian theatre men.

Zarudny’s The Rear, The Paths We Choose, The Time of Yellow Leaves, Such a Long, Long Summer and Under the High Stars have been favourites with Kiev’s Ivan Franko Theatre for many years. The playwright’s popularity was best of all summarized by Korniychuk in 1971:

“I think it is because his talent draws its vitality from the people. His plays are topical in the true sense of the word. His characters are alive, they provide actors with wonderful opportunities to present original images of our contemporaries. He is at his best in creating workers and peasants.

“Mikola Zarudny’s works are vividly national in form and socialist in content, He promotes the best traditions of Ukrainian realistic drama and learns from the great classics of native art. In every one of his plays we see those precious elements of our everyday life, without which there cannot be a truthful and real atmosphere for the characters to act in. Zarudny is a remarkable master of humour which is based not on invented witticisms, but on knowledge of folk humour, of those hilarious and poignant sayings which always receive peals of laughter and bursts of applause.”

Zarudny treats a large variety of themes ranging from Soviet life during the Revolution and the Civil War to our present day. The playwright has a keen sense for topical issues. He embodies them in convincing stage images showing the spiritual power and beauty of common workers and their contribution to our country’s industrial might, and voicing their irreconcilable stand against negative manifestations in human relations.

Zarudny’s heroes are very popular with actors, especially with Natalia Uzhviy, People’s Artist of the USSR, who is the leading actress at the Franko Theatre today.

When Uzhviy appears 011 the stage her profoundly lyrical talent imparts a sensitivity and brilliance to her heroines. This is so with Ustina Fedorivna in The Time of Yellow Leaves produced by Serhiy Smiyan.

With subtle psychological and emotional devices the actress delineates the character of an elderly folk craftswoman whose beautiful artifacts seem to have absorbed all the colours of the generous Ukrainian scenery, while her soul harbours the poetic and kind nature of her native people.

Uzhviy employs both kind humour and moving candidness in portraying Ustina Fedorivna who found happiness in love at a rather late age. In creating a truthful character of a modest artisan who embodied the best qualities of her people and imparting a general import to her heroine’s actions, Uzhviy wanted to bring across to her audiences that man’s “time of yellow leaves” means not aloofness from and indifference to life; it can be a period of open-heartedness and selfless service to people.

That is what makes Ustina Fedorivna so attractive to young and old, and that is why her daughter-in-law — a forester deeply in love with nature, who is played by Valentina Plotnikova — shares such spiritual intimacy with her wise mother-in-law.

The role of Maxim Bohun’s Mother in Zarudny’s historical drama Fidelity was yet another brilliant success in Uzhviy’s career. This drama is the third in Zarudny’s trilogy devoted to the struggle for and the establishment of Soviet power in Ukraine; the first two being Night and Conflagration and Blue Dews.

Bohun’s Mother, as played by Uzhviy, is a kind and wise inspirer of the activities of her son who chairs a village Soviet and tries to build a new life in the countryside.

Today Uzhviy plays many parts of mothers, but the role of a Ukrainian peasant mother is especially close to her.

In Fidelity Uzhviy gives vent to her maternal passions when she resolutely stops a crowd of enraged land-hungry peasants who had been provoked by their richer fellow-villagers to riot against the founders of the first collective farm. Her excited voice carried a high lyrical note, clear and gentle, and this made the crowd stop in their tracks. There is great tenderness in her words when she wishes Maxim happiness in family life, and when she dreams about her future nephews. The most impressive scene is when the old mother grieves over the loss of her only son who died at the hands of brutal enemies. There is extraordinary willpower and courage in her ardent utterance: “When the sons fall, their mothers take their place.”

Fidelity was staged by the director Volodimir Lizohub, People’s Artist of the UkrSSR, and, besides Uzhviy, starred Olga Kusenko who played the moving part of Straton’s wife, Marina Herasiinenko as Maxim’s true love Tetyana, Natalia Lototska as the brave Young Communist League girl Halina, and Valentina Plotnikova as Bohun’s sister Yarina.

For many years now the play has been part of many theatre programs. Its interpretation at the Vinnitsa Theatre revealed the staging skill of the director Vereshchagin.

Vereshchagin’s production of Fidelity, just like all of his other works, organically combined profound veracity of human characters and emotions with a distinct public message, festive mood, and authentic everyday and ethnographic detail. Fidelity to the great ideas of Lenin and the cause he stood for — this is the main message of the Vinnitsa production, in which Anatoliy Ovcharenko played the part of Maxim Bohun with great emotional power.

Fidelity also ranks among the best of the latest productions of the October Revolution Theatre in Odessa. Staged by the director Bronislav Meshkis, it features Olexandr Pokhilko in the principal role. Meshkis also staged Zarudny’s drama The Rear devoted to the Soviet people’s victory over fascism in the last war. The production is noted for its ardent and poetic tenor, a well-knit cast, and distinctly delineated principals played by Mikola Slyozka, Yuri Bozhik, Ivan Tverdokhlib and Petro Shidivar.

The Rear was immediately picked up by almost every theatre company in Ukraine, because it gave both directors and actors ample opportunities to re-create in all its force and grandeur the character of Soviet man who astounded the whole world by his heroic struggle against the fascist invaders.

The Zankovetska Theatre in Lvov was the first to stage the play, followed by companies in Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Cherkassy, Kharkov, Chernigov, Odessa, Kirovograd and Vinnitsa.

But Sorhiy Danchenko’s interpretation of The Rear at the Zankovetska Theatre was probably the best of them all.

In March 1978 the play won the playwright, and his stage interpreters — Danchenko, the designer Miron Kiprian, and the actors Nadia Dotsenko, Volodimir Maximenko and Fedir Strihun — a Taras Shevchcnko State Prize of the UkrSSR for Art,

The production is impressive in its epic scope, emotional impact, subtle psychological treatment, and a rare harmony of dramatic and musical elements. The unconquerable spirit of the Soviet people permeates the entire play, capturing the audiences by its outwardly restrained, but powerful heroic fervour and optimism. Concentrating on the rank-and-file participants in the war and attempting to convey through their individual destinies the great feat of our people, the playwright and the cast showed the events of five days in July 1942 in an obscure village.

Against the background of the fascists’ advance on Stalingrad, a little group of Ukrainian collective farmers who were evacuating children from an orphanage to the cast, found themselves surrounded by the enemy.

The director and cast convincingly showed that the war with fascism demanded that every Soviet man, wherever he be — in the front line or in the rear — mobilize every ounce of his physical and moral power. This theme is consistently brought home through the characters of Soviet soldiers who broke out of the encirclement and rejoined the Soviet troops. In this episode Fedir Strihun played the part of Sergeant Rastoskuyev, a Russian worker, with great expressiveness. The director and actor succeeded in creating in Rastoskuyev an archetype of the brave Soviet soldier. His comrades-in-arms — the Ukrainian Marko Narizhny played by Taras Stefanchuk and the Azerbaijanian Mamedov played by Victor Zayarny — added a special dramatic effect to the episode and asserted the theme of the international fraternity of Soviet nations in the front line and on the home front.

The production has a remarkably well-knit cast with Volodimir Maximenko evocatively playing the part of the collective farm chairman, a former participant in the Civil War, whose ill health, forces him to take part in evacuating the orphanage instead of fighting the enemy; Nadia Dotsenko as the kind-hearted Maria; Lyubov Kaganova as the brave patriot Oxana; and Volodimir Yakovenko as the attractive and courageous commissar Serhiy Lyonok.

The charming scenery of a vast sea of ripe wheat waiting to be reaped in the sun-scorched and war-ravaged Don steppe was beautifully designed by Miron Kiprian who used a number of eloquent details to support the tense atmosphere of the production. The composer Bogdan Yanivsky skilfully used the song The Sacred War for musical background. Throughout the play it is sung by a child’s voice, and in the finale, against the background of a burning steppe, the song is picked up by a powerful chorus asserting the will and courage of the Soviet people in their heroic struggle.

Yuri Stanishevsky


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