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BETWEEN THE LINES / Actor Jack Klaff remembers a Russian reaction to Bulgakov

'Our government has created a society in which it is not possible for someone to live for other people.'

Oblonsky in Sophie's Quarters by Bulgakov

THIS SIMPLE line, spoken from the stage of the new Moscow Art Theatre in July 1990, drew forth the most heartfelt audience reaction I have ever heard. Written down, the line has some resonance; in the theatre that night it caused the dam to burst. Russians had told me that when perestroika began they all rushed to the theatres, because there, at last, they would learn the truth. Good acting can reveal layers of truth. It is traditional in Russia to clap rhythmically as the actors bow. But this time a Stalinist hymn was played. Everyone present - audience and actors - became utterly motionless. They all acknowledged the extent to which, over the years, they had clapped along with the music, unlike Bulgakov himself, who lived - and wrote himself to death - for others.

(Photograph omitted)