Walpurgis Night, or the Steps of the Commander, by Venedikt Erofeev

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Walpurgis Night, or the Steps of the Commander

by Venedikt Erofeev

Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz

Yale University Press, 2014

Walpurgis Night, by acclaimed Russian writer Venedikt Erofeev, is considered a classic in the playwright's homeland. Erofeev's dark and funny five-act satire of Soviet repression has been called the comic high-water mark of the Brezhnev era. Walpurgis Night dramatizes the outrageous trials of Lev Isakovich Gurevich, an alcoholic half-Jewish dissident poet confined by the state to a hospital for the insane. In "Ward 3"—a microcosm of repressive Soviet society—Gurevich deploys his brilliant wit and ingenuity to bedevil his jailers, defend his fellow inmates, protest his incarceration, and generally create mayhem, which ultimately leads to a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Venedikt Erofeev (1938–1990) was prominent in the Russian postmodernism movement and a major literary figure in Soviet underground culture. His prose poem, Moscow to the End of the Line, has been translated into numerous languages. Marian Schwartz is a prizewinning translator of Russian fiction, history, biography, criticism, and fine art.


"This new translation captures much of the play's power. It contains the all-important humour of an absurd situation (a Kafka-esque imprisonment of innocents) without losing the undercurrents of violence between the characters." -- Noah Birksted-Breen, Sputnik Theater Company

"Walpurgis Night is a burning drink of a play made from equal parts violence and comic relief. Its success almost singularly depends on the skill with which these parts are mixed. Not only must the proportions be accurate, but also the timing of their combination. Likewise, Erofeev focuses not just on what is said, but how dialogue is delivered. In these regards Schwartz's translation is impeccable. Her attention to the brutality of Erofeev's language, his comedic timing, and the sounds of words as they are spoken will likely make the work a classic outside of Russia." -- Ethan Alexander Perets, Words Without Borders

"It's hard to imagine a much bleaker play than Venedikt Erofeev's "Walpurgis Night." Alcoholic Lev Gurevich is admitted to a Soviet psychiatric hospital, where the patients are abused. He seduces a nurse, steals some alcohol and the patients celebrate, only to find they have actually drunk poisonous wood spirit (methanol), indistinguishable from ethanol, and suffer a final, fatal liberation. This is the simple story behind Erofeev's extraordinary five-act tragedy that is by turns comic and macabre, shocking and satirical. The play is now available in a brand new version by Marian Schwartz, translated with her usual virtuoso mastery of postmodern stylistics." -- Phoebe Taplin, Russia Behind the Headlines

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