(p. 4) It’s an old Soviet joke.
Three Russians are in the gulag. The first one says, “What are you in for?”
The second one replies, “I called Zbarsky a revolutionary.”
“That’s funny,” the first one says. “I called Zbarsky a counterrevolutionary.”
“That’s funny,” the third one says. “I’m Zbarsky.”
Vern Thiessen’s new play, “Lenin’s Embalmers,” which starts on Wednesday at the Ensemble Studio Theater in Clinton, opens with the ghost of Lenin telling this joke as a parable of the mordant doom pervading the Communist state he created.
In real life the joke wasn’t specifically about Zbarsky. You could insert any of Stalin’s thousands of lackeys turned victims. Certainly Zbarsky would do. Boris Zbarsky was a real person, one of the two biochemists who, after Lenin died in 1924, were ordered by the Kremlin to devise a way of preserving his body forever.
He and his colleague, Vladimir Vorobiev — the play’s main characters — succeeded spectacularly, won fortune and power, then fell from grace into the terror, like many others who served a regime that survived through myth and fear.
. . .
The new work, written as a stylized dark comedy, takes only a few liberties with history. It has Zbarsky and Vorobiev arrested after they’re tricked into betraying each other. In fact Mr. Vorobiev died in a hospital, under mysterious circumstances, in 1937. Mr. Zbarsky was arrested in 1952; he was freed two years later, after Stalin’s death, and died of a seizure soon after. Still, betrayals and trumped-up confessions were common in the era.
For the full review, see:
FRED KAPLAN. “He’s Had Work: Preserving the Face of a Revolution.” The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., February 28, 2010): 4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 23 (sic), 2010.)