'He was killed first': the producer of the play about Solomon Mikhoels - about anti-Semitism and the tragedy of the great actor
February 29 spectators in New Jersey see for the first time the play “The Last Role of Solomon Mikhoels” is the story of a triumphant creative life, passionate love and the tragic death of the great Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels. On the eve of the ForumDaily performance, I had the opportunity to talk with the producer of the performance Leonid Kopeikin.
- You are not a theatrical person. As far as we know, in the Soviet Union you received a technical education, worked in your specialty for many years.
- Quite right. I graduated from the second faculty of the Kuibyshev Aviation Institute. He was one of the five best aviation universities in the country. Oleg Sysuev studied on the same stream with me, but at a different faculty. And a few years later, at KuaI, as our institute was called then, another very famous person in the modern world entered and successfully graduated from it - Mark Solonin.
- Great company. And after graduation ...
- He worked in his specialty at the beginning in Kuibyshev, at the engine-building plant. Frunze. My parents worked there as well. Then he went to work at the Znamya plant in Moscow. And in the early 90s, when the defense industry collapsed, I had to first go to work in a private business, and then move to America.
- Is it that simple?
- Of course not. I am simply outlining the most consistent line that will lead us to the answer to the question: where did theater come from?
- So where did the theater come from?
- I think about 30 years ago. I was in Moscow, on a business trip, and in one of the passages I bought a novel by the Weiner brothers, The Gospel of the Executioner, at a book store. I have a flair for books. Of course, the author's surname means a lot. But we know that even a famous author does not have every book a masterpiece. And here the most powerful energy beat through the binding. And I was not wrong. And my business trip was over. The entire space was occupied by a book, the rest was done on autopilot.
- Well ...
- Wait, you will understand now. Already on the first reading, I saw the faces of fictional characters. What real historical characters looked like, I more or less knew. And when I began to re-read the novel, each time I saw more and more clearly how it all happened. In my opinion, The Gospel According to the Executioner is almost a finished script.
- So this book gave impetus to your creative imagination?
- I think yes. Everything else was growing like a snowball from a mountain. I read another Weiner novel from this dilogy - "A Loop and a Stone in the Green Grass." And after that, I plunged into accessible historical non-fiction literature. Details unknown to me began to open up, and I had a feeling that the logic of events had become clear. And a clear historical period arose, where events worked in such a way that they were supposed to lead to a completely definite result, which in my first public speech I called the Stalin Five-Year Plan for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question in the USSR.
- What historical period are you talking about now?
- I'm talking about the period from January 1948 to March 1953. Although the anti-Semitic overture began in 1947.
- What does all this have directly to you?
- The most direct. I was born into a Jewish family. Although assimilated, it is Jewish. Yiddish was spoken in the house, which was spoken by many of my close relatives. My parents spoke pure and correct Russian, so strangers asked them and me all their lives: are you from Moscow or from Leningrad?
- Then it is all the more incomprehensible what turned you towards your ethnic origin?
- Here it just unfolded. The world around us unfolded. Ephraim Sevela has a work called "Yiddish Speaking Parrot." And I was a Jew who spoke Russian. It's almost like Zhvanetsky: "Yes, famous, but still ....". Here MM has a pause, but everyone knows what word to fill it with. My story. That is, from childhood I knew who I was. And I learned about the doctors' case quite early. And I was born in January 53, when the hysteria of anti-Semitism was unleashed in full. And the stars lay down differently, and the deportation began - this conversation would not have happened. There would be nothing in my life.
- So you want to say that you had a personal motive to turn to the theater?
- Exactly. But maybe everything would have remained inside, if not for what is happening now in the world in relation to the Jews. You know, over the past year and a half in various places I have said and written what I later read from Mark Solonin, and from Leonid Mlechin, and from Nikolai Svanidze. And I'm glad of that. The main thing here is not the palm, but the fact that people of different ages, positions, education and nationalities see the situation and assess it almost the same.
- How is this expressed?
- The fact that the effect of the anti-Semitism vaccination that mankind introduced to itself 75 years ago has ended. Everyone thought that the blood and ashes of six million innocent souls would forever protect humanity from the most terrible virus of hatred. It turned out to be one of many illusions. If we do not start to act - everywhere, openly, using all available and legal means, we will get a new Holocaust. The point is not in what form. It's about the scale.
- Aren't you exaggerating the threat?
“I don’t want to belittle it. And then, it's never just limited to Jews. Check out Lord Jonathan Sachs speeches. It doesn't matter where the epidemic starts. If you don't fight it, it will cover the whole world. It can proceed as it did in pre-war Germany, or post-war Russia, or as in Poland, where there are practically no Jews left, and anti-Semitism still exists.
- And that's why you turned to the theater, to Mikhoels?
- Yes. Mikhoels is a huge personality. In many ways, this led to the fact that he was killed first. And you pay attention to the uniqueness of this crime: the customer is known - Stalin, the executors are known - Abakumov and his subordinates, the method, time, place of the murder - everything is known. But the criminal case was not brought to court and no one was tried for this murder. They took away orders and titles (not all), imprisoned (not all), shot (not all), but not specifically for this crime, but in aggregate. And mostly for work under the leadership of Beria. And at the very time when I turned to the Russian community in New York with a proposal to tell about what happened in the last Stalinist five years in the USSR, director Arnold Shvetsov called me and offered to stage the play by our contemporary, playwright Zinovy Sagalov "The Last Role of Solomon Mikhoels" ... In 2019, we showed the play three times in a stage readout format, and all the screenings were a great success. Our actors Alexei Trubetskoy and Valeria Korennaya showed excellent work. Next in line - at the end of February, a show in the format of a play with all the decorations that a wonderful person Natalia Vikhlyaeva designed for us, music, light and a cozy chamber hall, which we received thanks to the help of Dmitry Mikhailov, head of the Russian center in Firelon, New Jersey. By the way, we invite everyone to visit the Community Center on February 29 at 7 pm and watch the performance.
- And it's all?
- Of course not. Sagalov's play is a Broadway piece. Mikhoels is timeless, anti-Semitism is an eternal theme. The play can be played for years. In addition, we are already working on another play by Sagalov "Do not believe Mr. Kafka", and in the project - a third play about the events of early 1953.
- Judging by the way you talk about your work, the pace of your progress is not very high.
- It's true. I would like to move faster. But there are objective circumstances. Almost only this year we opened ARLO Art Productions, which will deal with our projects. And the most painful point of all undertakings is financing. We certainly need sponsors, both organizations and simply caring people. We are a non-profit organization. So far, we can only count on like-minded people, on those who know us personally and believe in us. And we believe that we are doing a good and just cause.
- Thank you, Leonid. We wish you every success.
- Thank you for your interest in our activities.
You can learn more and buy a ticket for a performance about Solomon Mikhoels at ForumDaily Poster Page.
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