In winter 1992, the Moscow Romani Theater staged a Sunday matinee of a
musical drama entitled Gypsy. The play had been in the repertoire for years,
having been adapted from a 1960s novel that also spun o√ a film and more
than one television series.∞ The hero of Gypsy is a Gypsy World War II
veteran, Budulaj. A Nazi tank killed his wife eighteen years ago, and now he
travels the Russian countryside, seeking kin and army comrades, along the
way fighting prejudice and enlightening the ‘‘wild’’ Gypsy nomads. The
story is well-known, and while it incorporates relatively progressive images
of ‘‘New Soviet Gypsies,’’ it also weaves in familiar ones that typecast the
Gypsy as a natural performer. At the matinee, a small audience of Russian
pensioners hummed along with the familiar melodies. One of them ex-
ceeded the nostalgia of the rest, however, by trying to physically enter the
mythic, recent past on the stage: he drunkenly stumbled through the dark
down the central aisle, waving his arms and crying out, ‘‘Budulaj, Budulaj!’’
Ignoring stairs on the side, he swung his leg up onto the floorboards and
staggered over to embrace the actor playing Budulaj. He was stopped, ‘‘Go
back to the audience—you are disturbing the work of the collective,’’ cried
the actor playing a Russian journalist. The other actors nervously im-
provised an exit, while an usher led the credulous drunk down the stairs,
past the marble proscenium arch, which in 1992 still was carved with Soviet
airplanes and stars.
The Problem: Representation and Memory
By the mid-1990s, those decorations had been removed from the prosce-
nium. But less visible performance frames—or, more important, assump-
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