The Making of an Unexpected Death


Act I
Scene i

1930's, Gulag in the USSR. Prisoners are huddled together under blankets in the evening.

Alexi

What did you do before the Revolution, Comrade?

 

Vasily

I was a teacher. And you?

 

Alexi

I was a peasant, a farmer on a nobleman's estate. They never taught me to read or write, that was for the aristocracy.

 

Vasily

Then you missed a great deal, my friend.

 

Alexi

What did you teach?

 

Vasily

I taught stories told by the Great Russian authors, and sometimes I wrote stories for the newspapers.

 

Alexi

What kind of stories?

 

Vasily

…all kinds of stories.

 

Alexi

Well comrade, since we must fill our evening 'til they put us back to work again tomorrow morning, maybe you would be so kind as to tell us one of those stories.

 

Vasily

What sort of a story would you like to hear?

 

Alexi

Any story will do, comrade.


Vasily

Very well then, I shall tell you the story of the Wedding Party. My story happened near Tashkent, you know the place, my friend?

 

Alexi

I have heard of it.

 

Vasily

Well it happened in the wintertime. A young nobleman whose estate was near Tashkent was getting married to a lovely young woman in a small village some distance away. The wedding party was large, and from the groom's side included his Father and Mother, his Sister and many handsome young men. They traveled by sleds, of course, to the estate of the bride's home where the couple was to be wed. It was a grand wedding, the bride's family was very wealthy and had exquisite taste so that all of the halls and rooms were hung with beautiful tapestries and carpets the weaving burnished with golden threads, tables were set with the finest china and glassware. Many sheep were slaughtered and many fish were prepared for the table. The wine flowed freely and the cognac, vodka and champagne poured out as from a never-ending fountain.

 

The Russian priest conducted the ceremony in the usual fashion and the party afterward repaired to a great feast that had been set for the celebration. The halls were filled with laughter, tributes, and loud boasts about this and about that. Glasses were raised in salutes and eulogies to those present and those fondly remembered. The music played, the young people danced and sang. No one seemed to want to end the affectionate gaiety, the frivolity and joyfulness of the day. Finally however, at midnight, after many tender hugs and tearful “goodbyes” the groom's party and the groom with the bride on his arm, regretfully parted from their hosts (and the bride from her family) retreating to their sleighs for the trip back to the groom's estate and the couple's new life.

 

There were in all five sleds, troikas, each pulled by a team of three horses. The groom, wishing to impress his bride, chose to drive the first one, and he lifted her in with him, loading onto the sleigh, as well, many fine wedding presents. His parents and sister with a hired driver were in the second sled, and his friends with bottles of champagne and vodka that had been showered upon them by their hosts were in the third. His servants were in the last two troikas with more of the wedding gifts and the bottles of vodka they had managed to cadge. They set out with only the sliver of a moon but well familiar with the route they would be traveling, having traveled it that morning in the opposite direction. Soon they lost sight of the bride's family, then the glowing windows of the palace fell into obscurity behind. The cold air began to clear the wine and vodka from the travelers' heads. They crossed a field and entered a wood, and then emerged on the other side into another field.

 

It was at this point that some in the rear-most sleighs became aware of some shapes on the snow in the distance behind them. The objects appeared to be moving. And though the sleighs were not moving slowly, these ominous shadows appeared to be overtaking them. The horses no longer needed to be goaded on to a quicker pace but began to press on without the whip. After awhile the horses started to pull against each other and they seemed to want to escape from their harness. When the mysterious pursuers got within range, so that the people in the rearward sleighs could recognize what they were, their blood turned cold. It was a large pack of howling wolves.

 

Soon the wolves had overtaken the last troika, snapping at the hind legs of the horses, driving them into a frenzy, which overturned the sleigh. Horses and passengers were set upon by the wolves. There were gunshots, but they were to no avail because of the size of the pack. The agonized cries and groans were heard by the drivers and passengers ahead, but there was no hope of rescue by the small party remaining so they continued, hoping to out run them. Quickly, the pack resumed the chase of the other sleds, before long coming upon the next one, which was also over turned. With that the groom laid the whip hard on his own team and they responded and flew ahead. Likewise, did the driver of his parent's sled and that of his friends as well.

 

Alas, the pack quickly caught up to the sleigh with his friends and they, too, were consumed by the savage creatures. The groom again urged on his horses and waved to the driver in his parents sleigh to do the same. But again the wolves, unsatisfied, and even seemingly incited by the prospect that lay before them, redoubled their efforts as well. Soon the groom was forced to helplessly listen to the shrieks of his Sister and cries of his Mother, and the hopeless shouts of his Father. Again he applied the whip, and again his horses redoubled their efforts. But to no avail, for the wolves continued to pursue this last remaining sled. He told his bride to throw off the wedding presents that were on the sleigh, which she did.

 

But it was of little use. Finally the groom halted the sled, unhitched the horses, and he and his bride mounted the two fastest horses. He shot the other horse in the hopes that the wolves might decide to feed on it and stop their pursuit. Ah, but that too was not enough and when his bride's horse began to show signs of exhaustion he shot it and lifted his bride behind him on his horse. But that did not stop the hungry wolves and they eventually overtook the horse and its riders and all were consumed in the night and the snow. The next day some people from the groom's estate, looking for the tardy newlyweds, their family, friends and servants, only found the bloody garments of the party and the remains of their steeds upon the crusted snow with the tracks of the wolves all around them.

 

Alexi

Tell me, comrade, what is the meaning of this terrible story?

 

Vasily

The meaning…why it is obvious, the meaning is that you cannot satisfy the wolves and you cannot outrun them. They will always chase you until they finish you off.

 

Alexi

But who are the wolves, comrade, who are the wolves?

 

Vasily

The wolves, my friend, are the People, they are: Us! You… and I!


 

ACT I
Scene ii

July 1938: Stalin's office; present are Beria and Stalin.

 

Stalin

Ah, Lavrenti, what have you come to see me about?

 

Beria

Great leader who comes from the part of the Soviet Union that I also come from, please listen to me.

 

Stalin

Of course I will listen to you comrade.

 

Beria

I have very bad news to tell you about myself and there is no reason for it.

 

Stalin

Bad news?

 

Beria

Yes, very bad.

 

Stalin

Well what is it?

 

Beria

Orders have been issued for my arrest.

 

Stalin

Your arrest? Who ordered it?

 

Beria

Someone high up in the NKVD

 

Stalin

Why did they order you to be arrested?

 

Beria

I am innocent Soso, I swear to you that I am innocent. I have done nothing wrong. I have always supported the Communist Party and your leadership with great faithfulness since I was fortunate to make your acquaintance in 1920. I worked in the Cheka and swear to you that I have always dealt mercilessly and implacably with the enemies of Bolshevism, the saboteurs, the revisionists, the spies and their collaborators. And was I not given awards for my dedicated leadership as First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party in rooting out anti-Bolshevik socialist elements in the Caucuses region? When it was necessary to purge our party in Georgia, did I not do it? By my order two thirds of the 644 delegates to the 10th Georgian Communist Party Congress held in May, that elected me only a year before, were arrested and shot! The highest echelons of the party were cleansed, including some who thought they were safe because they had been with us from before the Revolution. The regular party ranks in Georgia were also shaken out, men shot or sent to the gulags. Anyone who was not loyal to you and to our party was eliminated. Our three-man squads, our troikas, went into factories and into fields to investigate complaints, pass judgment and carry out punishments. If there was a complaint and if we felt they were not working hard enough for the collective good, they were shot. It was not easy to do this but it was necessary so that we could accomplish your goals for the country in industry and agriculture, so we could achieve the plan we are striving for.

 

Stalin

You have been a good policeman.

 

Beria

My life is devoted to you. You are like the great Georgian hero Koba. The people should know what you have done for them, how you have fought for them, even before the great Revolution, to bring them justice and a better life. I hope my book pleased you, my book: On the History of Bolshevik Organizations in Transcaucasia. Did I not tell the story well enough? Did I not defend you against falsifiers of party history? I wanted you to be seen as the great man that you are, the greatest man in history. When we celebrated the 750th anniversary of the great Georgian writer Rustaveli at the Tiblisi Opera Theater, I removed his portrait and put your portrait in the front, in the center, above the stage. That is how it should be, for you have written your ideas in deeds, not mere words. You have transformed a backward country. You have changed history.

 

Stalin

You have been a good archivist.

 

Beria

Did I not restore your birthplace in Georgia and create a museum there? Did I not look after your Mother, attend her funeral for you when you could not be there, make the arrangements and preside over the proceedings? Did I not entertain your children and your wife? Did I not build you a vacation house in the mountains of Western Georgia when you expressed a desire for it? And did I not do it in record time at no cost to the state, using labor from the prison camps. The people in Georgia and myself are always pleased when you, our great leader, our Koba, has time to spend among us. And your dacha on the Black Sea, it has been a privilege to oversee the security arrangements there for you. All these things I have done because of my great respect and love for you and for our party. Please say that you will look into this warrant for my arrest.

 

Stalin

I will look into it.