Thursday, October 12, 2006

Robeson’s Drama

For this week at least, the BBC’s favorite Stalinist is Paul Robeson. BBC4 broadcasted Paul and Yolande, a radio play dramatizing the affair between Robeson and uppercrust Brit Yolande Jackson (available here until next Tue.) written by Linda Grant. Actually, Grant’s accompanying article, in the Guardian no less, is actually reasonably nuanced when discussing Robeson’s politics. Grant writes she was more interested in Jackson, conceding Robeson’s flaws, like:

“the terrible errors of political judgment he made, like so many western intellectuals who covered their eyes and bit their tongues when the truth of Stalin’s torture state was there to be seen.”

In her radio play, Robeson comes off as a stentorian figure, making pronouncements on dignity and respect as if he were always speaking at a political rally. Jackson sounds like an actress auditioning for a dinner theater production of Love Letters. Listening to the radio play, it is difficult to understand how they could have had a fifteen minute conversation, let alone come close to marriage.

The play largely skirts the political issues of Robeson’s life, although around the forty-two minute mark, Jackson wonders if she might have “turned him away from the Communist path,” had their relationship worked out differently. Robeson became a willing mouthpiece for the Stalin regime, hewing loyally to the party line. When Soviet forces crushed the Hungarian Revolution, Robeson parroted Moscow, blaming America:

“Of Course, it was not a true uprising of the people. It was inspired by America and other agents.”

Undoubtedly, Robeson’s life has great dramatic potential. How someone with the strength and pride of Robeson could voluntarily cede his political opinions and independence to the Communist Party, calling for the tanks to roll into Hungary, is an intriguing question. As drama though, Paul and Yolande is pretty flat. Read the article instead.