I’m back, with the first rendition of Anastasia’s story (maybe not the first, but certainly the one that influenced many others after it). Remember, this is a series and you can check out the first post discussing the historical details of the real Anastasia and Anna Anderson here.
To begin our journey we look at the stage play. I’ll cover three topics, what it is, how it differs from history, and what I enjoyed or disliked about it. In future blog posts, I’ll start to provide comparisons between renditions.
*Warning — Spoilers of the play are a given!*
Anastasia by Marcelle Maurette;
English Adapatation by Guy Bolton
What is it?
This rendition of Anastasia is a stage play. It was written by the French playwright Marcelle Maurette and it is perhaps her most notable work. This play brought her international recognition and went on to inspire a film (next month’s post), which inspired a cartoon adaptation, and the Broadway. Marcelle is honored with various awards and a prominent French literary figure. The English version of the play is adapted by Guy Bolton.1
The play was first presented in New York in 1954.
“Anya is discovered as an amnesiac in a Berlin asylum by former Cossack ‘prince’ turned-taxi-driver Bounine, she is swept into a scheme to exploit the ‘heritage’ of 10 million pounds being held in trust for any surviving heirs of the Romanoff dynasty. As the conspiracy prospers, Anya is coached to success but for one last test: the Imperial Grand Empress is alive and her acceptance is essential. In a famous ‘recognition scene’ of breathless suspense, Anya meets her grandmother and must convince the dowager that she is the long-lost Royal Princess Anastasia.”
The story takes place in January 1926, in Berlin. The important characters to take note of are:
- Boris Chernov: a banker from St. Petersburg
- Piotr Petrovin: an artist who used to produce the scenic work for the Russian Imperial Opera House
- Arcade Bounine: “General of the Don Cossacks, former Aide-de-Camp attached to the person of His Imperial Majesty Nicholas the Second Tsar of all Russias” (pg. 35)
- Prince Paul: Nephew of the Dowager Empress and former fiance to Anastasia
- Dr. Serensky: an asylum doctor/patient and friend/lover to Anya
- Dowager Empress: Anastasia’s grandmother
- Baroness Livenbaum: A lady-in-waiting to the dowager.
Of course there is Anastasia as well and a few other characters who act as servants or people who either believe or disbelieve that Anna is Anastasia.
Chernov, Petrovin, and Bounine are in a scheme together to find an impostor to play the part of Anastasia so that they might get their hands on the money in the international banks.
They find Anna, a woman who tried to jump into the river to end her life. She has scars on her head and hands that fit the story of a woman protecting herself from bullets being fired and looks strikingly like Anastasia. Coaching her in what to say the story progresses as they try to convince others that she is her.
As the play continues on we see Anna flip back and forth on who she is, she will give memories of Anastasia’s life that the others cannot account for telling her, and they wonder where she learned it from. At the same time she’ll deny it all.
When she meets the Dowager, she is able to convince the woman that she is indeed Anastasia and plans are made to publicly announce this. The night of the announcement, Anastasia is visited once again by Dr. Serensky (who came earlier to try to stop Bounine, worried that this would harm the delusional woman). We see them share a kiss, and there is some inkling that perhaps they were once lovers. She even tells Prince Paul, when he asks who it was that just left, that he was a lover of Anna Bronin — the name she went under when she knew Dr. Serensky. They part ways though, and Anastasia is preparing for the announcement when Bounine tells her that Prince Paul will also announce their engagement.
She is upset, about the puppetry of it all and the little say she has in everything. Upon a final talk with her grandmother, she slips off into the night, leaving Bounine and the others empty-handed. And the mystery of whether is was or wasn’t Anastasia remains, as the Dowager refuses to say one way or another if she believed the woman, still audiences can believe that she was in fact Anastasia who has the blessing of her grandmother to seek a life of happiness, not weighted down by the past of who she was.
How does it differ from history?
Maurette’s play stays fairly true to a lot of the details from the sensational Anna Anderson. While the character is never give the last name Anderson the connection is clear.
In the historical account, on February 27, 1920, Anna Anderson attempts to suicide by jumping off a bridge in Berlin. Anna Anderson’s story starts to spread by 1922 of her claims to be the tsar’s daughter. The play takes place in 1926, so a few years after its historical counterpart. The setting remains the same, an asylum in Berlin and a woman who attempted to jump off a bridge.
From there it becomes a fictional account, with inklings of truth. Bounine and his conspirators are all fictional, along with the plot to receive her inheritance. Though we do see some mention of the inheritance in historical accounts, and quarrels about it but it was never part of a master plot to attempt to con people for it.
What is also very different is the introduction of Prince Paul, and the Dowager Empress. In the historical accounts, Anna Anderson never met her. Instead she met an aunt, who never believed she was Anastasia.
Other similarities are the stories of how she survived – which mirrors that of history, she fainted while being shot at, and woke next to dead bodies, someone helped her out and took her to Berlin. The mention of jewels sewn into garments also comes out in the play. As well as similarities in the counter argument of how she got her wounds — a factory explosion, which is what Anna Anderson really did survive, and lost her husband in.
In the historical account Baroness Sophie Buxhoevedn meetings Anastasia, where as the play uses a Baroness Livenbaum.
The final note is the use of a Dr. Serensky, who knows Anastasia. I think this may be some connection to Gleb Botkin and his father Serge Botkin. Serge Botkin was a doctor who died along side the royal family. It was Gleb who believed Anna and worked with her. Dr. Serensky in the story, cares for Anna, though he does not believe her (until possibly the end). It’s perhaps a stretch but it could be where the character’s influence came from.
My own thoughts:
I enjoyed reading the play. You have to remember it is a stage play (and written as such), so if you’re not use to reading that it could be quite difficult.
I found this play to be refreshing from the stories that will follow, it was much more mature, and less dreamy and romantic. Now, I love romance, so I did miss that aspect, but I appreciate how it kept close to history.
Anastasia is a well-written character. Throughout the play you wonder if Bounine has just gotten an impostor or if she actually could be Anastasia. We even being to see doubt from Petrovin and Bounine. Which is beautifully done, as they begin to doubt, Anna pulls out memories they never told her. They question how she could’ve known and she provides reasonable explanation of eavesdropping and then she flips it on them, and the reader, asking us who we believe.
Anna demands that everyone who is forcing her to do this or that, to play this part, to be this way, to marry this man, look at themselves, and ask what they believe. In the end, Anna decides not to live as puppet or an actress for scheming men, regardless of who she truly was in the past. She moves forward, to live her own life. As her grandmother puts it when they ask where she ran to she says “She will never come back [… she’s gone] to find life — her real life”.
It has quite the moral tale to it, and the question of performing life and living true to ourselves. There are also some really great lines, especially from Anastasia and the Dowager. One of my favorites from Anastasia to Bounine as they argue is:
“My father was a toymaker, my mother his assistant who painted the faces of his dolls. Could you ask a better ancestry for a puppet?”
Overall I quite enjoyed it and I am looking forward to share the movie with you all next month so we can discuss how this influences it!
Until next time,
1. “Marcelle Maurette.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcelle_Maurette
2. “Anna Anderson.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Anderson.
3. Maurette, Marcelle. “Anastasia.” Translated by Guy Bolton. Samual French Inc., NY. 1984
4. “Anastasia. ” Internet Broadway Database. https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/anastasia-2492
Images from Wikipedia and IMDB, along with personal photos taken.