Chilling obituary to a dead system

Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s take on dark comedy is well done

  • As the Russians do: Two men fight in this scene from “Lenin’s Embalmers,” while Lenin’s body lies on a slab in the background, and a bottle of vodka sits open on a table. – Winnipeg Jewish Theatre

Black comedy is a rather paradoxical genre by its definition, as it somehow manages to combine elements of the truly, irredeemably tragic and the uproariously hilarious, while still retaining the elements of both.

Director Geoffrey Brumlik brings Lenin’s Embalmers to life in a way that captures the very essence of what life meant for people living in Stalin-era Soviet Russia.

The story centers around two scholars, Boris Zbarsky (Martin Julien) and Vladimir Vorobiov (Hardee Lineham), the former of whom is interested in embalming the corpse of Vladimir Lenin (Harry Nelken).

Reluctantly, the latter agrees, as the two of them undergo the painstaking process of embalming the man, in hopes of enshrining him as a god.

Unfortunately, through a series of betrayals and suspicion, the two of them must struggle to maintain their integrity as their loyalties are questioned from all the way up to “Father Stalin” himself (David Fox).

The execution of the play is brilliant and the direction by Brumlik is effective at recreating whatever mood is required of a scene.
The embalming scenes were particularly well done through the use of lighting, sets and music.

As well, the “comedy” half of black comedy is well covered through the periodic jokes about Soviet life, which effectively capture the tragedy and bitterness that the people felt back then.

Furthermore, the dialogue in comic scenes is delivered very well, with rapid-fire delivery reminiscent of Waiting for Godot, allowing things to be said (and happen) at just the right time.

The acting is also quite good. The two leads, Julien and Lineham, make for an interesting pair.

Lineham, portraying the character that actually controls the project and is the more cynical of the two, is an effective voice of reason up until the end.

Also well done (and artfully underplayed) is David Fox as Stalin, who seems almost cuddly and grandfatherly at first, as the Soviet citizens would have seen him, until we see the sheer casual evil that he was truly capable of.

Overall, the play is a well-done, darkly comedic display of the damage that a broken ideology has on not only the state itself, but the soul of a human being – one that shouldn’t be taken too lightly.

Published in Volume 65, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 21, 2010)

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