Special envoy to Lyon

In 1924, seven years after the revolution, in a community apartment. A blue formica table, still lifes, Russian icons, bouquets of artificial flowers, a bed behind a curtain and a piano that will only be used once. Ruined, Nadejda Petrovna Goulatchkine (Sylvie Orcier) wants to marry her daughter Varvara (Nadine Moret) to Valerian Stepanovitch, a young bourgeois (Arthur Orcier) whose father (François Caron) was once a rich landowner. But the latter wants to “guarantee his back” and demands a… communist as his dowry. The mother then asks her son Pavel (Ahmed Hammadi-Chassin) to join the Party. The offspring sets out in search of proletarian parents to prove that he has been there for a long time and has a mandate. His plans will be disrupted.

Disturbed while he was cooking vermicelli with milk, the neighbor and tenant of the Goultachkines (Virgil Leclaire, mustache and severe glasses) threatens to notify the militia for “violation of social peace”. A wave of panic sweeps the family dining room. Especially since a friend of Nadejda (Aline Le Berre) brings her a wicker trunk supposed to contain the dress of Empress Alexandra. “All that remains of Russia in Russia,” she sums up.

Presented at the Théâtre des Célestins in Lyon, Le Mandat is the first play written by Nicolaï Erdman (1900-1970). He was only 23 years old at the time and demonstrated astonishing foresight on Stalinist policies. Banned by the Soviet authorities in 1930, the play was not published until 1987 and in Russian. And, in 1933, the Muscovite author was exiled to Siberia. A great admirer of Chekhov and Gogol and lover of vaudeville, Nicolaï Erdman creates a wonderfully burlesque and absurd farce. Brilliant, he rolls out a carpet in which the characters trip over each other. “What is this life? », laments the devout mother, but nostalgic for Tsarist Russia and willing to make concessions to regain her rank and, above all, to be safe. “How can honest people live here? », she asks. “Trouble! », retorts Pavel, who increasingly considers himself a communist.

Terrified, everyone therefore turns around and takes what they deserve. The objective is to improve one’s condition and to be well regarded by the regime. Nastia, the handywoman (Lauren Pineau-Orcier), finds herself a highness. Armed with an administrative document, Pavel transforms into a dictator, and the engaged couple become the toys of incredible adventures that escape them. Rebel or submissive, the protagonists are funny and sad, hateful and pathetic. Always dependent on the system. “They don’t even come to arrest us,” they regret at the end. The author castigates the failings of small people whose mediocrity competes with cowardice. They lie shamelessly, plot without scruple and denounce without qualms. However, if Nicolaï Erdman is not tender with them, he does not throw stones at them. In empathy, he saves them in his own way. On the set, it’s scampering, running, dancing and tumbling, going in and out. Patrick Pineau’s disheveled direction sometimes falls like a breeze, but we follow the protagonists until the end. The thirteen actors are all impeccable.

The play was triumphantly premiered in 1925 in Moscow by Vsevolod Meyer hold. Removed from the poster, it was remounted after the death of Stalin. It is said that the audience laughed more than three hundred times during the performances, sometimes without interruption. There were even two people who died laughing. This is not the case with Patrick Pineau’s version. The actor and director, who had already produced Le Suicidé, the second and last play by Nicolaï Erdman, nevertheless knows his grating humor. Certainly, he appropriates this text in André Markowicz’s translation with genuine enthusiasm and impressive energy, and uses all the comic devices. But he fails by a few lengths throughout these two and a quarter hours. However, we had a great time.

Le Mandat, at the Théâtre des Célestins, in Lyon (69), until March 16. Such. : 04 72 77 40 00. Then on tour, from March 26 to 29 at the Théâtre-Sénart, Scène nationale, in Lieusaint (77), on April 2 and 3 at L’Azimut, in Antony-Châtenay-Malabry (92), etc.