Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Tennessee Williams on the Bulgarian Stage: Cold War Politics and Politics of Reception

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Tennessee Williams on the Bulgarian Stage: Cold War Politics and Politics of Reception

Article excerpt

An amusing thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago in the London dressing-room of a great English actor. The actor was receiving a visit from a star of the Bulgarian theatre. This visitor said to me, "You know, Streetcar Named Desire is being done in Moscow and Sophia now." I told him I'd heard about that and had also heard that Blanche did not go mad over there. "She goes mad in Bulgaria," he told me, "but not in Moscow." And I thought to myself, "Those Moscow cats must have a lot on the ball to keep Blanche in her right mind."1

Tennessee Williams has been one of the hottest names in the Soviet theatre world for a long time, but there have been few attempts to consider the ways in which his transatlantic reception was caught up in the Cold War politics of confrontation and containment. It is not accidental that one of the most divisive ideologies of the twentiethcentury - the Iron Curtain - is also etymologically related to the world of the theatre. As a public arena, the stage is embedded in the real context of political and social conflicts, functioning as a site where various ideologies are both established and contested. The study of Tennessee Williams' disruptive presence in Communist Bulgaria - one of the most loyal partners of the Soviet bloc - can provide an interesting, behind-the-Curtain look at the complexities in the intercultural theatre exchange that was conducted between East and West during and after the Cold War.

On the whole, the American playwright has enjoyed unwavering enthusiasm among Bulgarian spectators and theatre-makers, as demonstrated by the many productions and revivals of fourteen Williams plays over the last fifty years. Yet, the politics of interpreting his drama in Bulgaria has often been marked by the realpolitik of suspicion and rivalry that has defined Soviet and US relations since World War II. The history of the productions reveals that Williams' journey to the Bulgarian audience was winding and uneven. Starting as late as 1961, it was influenced by Bulgaria's national theatrical tradition, as well as by its historical context and acting methods, but especially by its Cold War culture and Communist ideology, both of which played a significant role in controlling interpretative procedures and evaluative modes. In chronological terms, three major patterns in appropriating Williams for the Bulgarian stage can be observed: firstly, the 1960s' productions were strictly filtered through the dominant ideological code, emphasizing the representation of social problems and class conflicts; secondly, in the 1970s and 1980s theatre-makers focused on aesthetic problems, whereas thirdly, after the fall of Communism, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. In an attempt to radically reject Communist ideology and clichés, all previously suppressed taboos and differences exploded with a vengeance to meet the growing demands of the country's commercial theatre.

In order to trace these paradigms, I have opted for a combination of historical and production analysis rather than text-based analysis, relying on theatre critics' reviews, program notes for specific performances, commentaries in the Bulgarian media, as well as my personal observations. The theoretical premises for this study include intercultural performance theory, drama reception theory and historiography. Theatre as social practice is always embedded in structures of power and knowledge, often imposing particular values and norms or masking inequalities as discussed by theatre theorists such as Susan Bennett, Patrice Pavis, Marco de Marinis, Femando de Toro and especially those coming from the postcolonial tum in performance studies. In their article "Toward a Topography of CrossCultural Theatre Praxis", Jacqueline Lo and Helen Gilbert propose a detailed typology of intercultural theatre (subcategorized into transcultural, intracultural and extracultural) in order to accentuate power relations and issues of agency in cross-cultural transfer. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.