Go on Pretending

Go On Pretending: Finally Out From Irna Phillips’s Thumb…Why Is It So Dull?

The Preparatory Committee asked Rose and Jonas to arrive a month before the festival was scheduled to kick off on July 28, 1957, so they’d have plenty of rehearsal time before opening the next day. Ten nightly performances were scheduled for the duration of the two-week event. Rose and Jonas didn’t tell their families where they were going. They didn’t tell anybody where they were going. They bought separate seats on their connecting flights to Moscow, with a stop-over in Vienna, Austria. They didn’t want any trouble.

Rose and Jonas were told there’d be someone to meet them at the airport. They didn’t expect a delegation; a young man and two young women, dressed in their Komsomol, All-Union Young Communist League uniforms of dark brown with bright red scarves and matching Lenin pins, each bearing a bouquet of flowers. Behind them stood a photographer and behind him, yet another young woman, this one dressed in an ethnic Russian national costume, colorful skirt, embroidered blouse, and an ornate headpiece shaped like the tops of Red Square with ribbons trailing down past each ear. She held forward a wooden cutting board atop which sat a round loaf of bread, its center hollowed out to encompass a pile of salt.

Rose and Jonas were hugged and kissed heartily on each cheek. Rose and Jonas had flowers pressed into their hands. Rose and Jonas were urged to break off a piece of bread, dip it in the salt and take a bite “to make great friendship between us!” All while the photographer circled them, snapping bright flashes into their eyes.

They were ushered into a gray, limousine-shaped car, Rose and Jonas in the back with the photographer and the bread bearer, the three Komsomolniks in the front. A leaping deer hood ornament decorated the bonnet, yet any other spot on the chassis where a label might have gone appeared to have been ripped clean. 

Noticing Rose looking, the Komsomol girl with the golden braids crisscrossed over her head proudly explained, “No more Molotov.”

“Like the cocktail?” Rose blurted the first association that came to mind, then realized it might have been less than a wise choice. The weapon was developed by the Axis-allied Finns to use against the Soviet Union — Molotov being their Foreign Minister — during the last war. She blamed the slip on jet lag. And stupidity.

At least her hostess laughed, then explained, “This car, it is first made in a factory named after Molotov. We call it ZIM. The M is for Molotov. But now, he is against Comrade Khrushchev making great changes, so we no longer honor him. No more street names, no more ships, no more factories. Car is now called GAZ. We remove all former markings, we are waiting for new ones to put on.”

“Isn’t that wonderful!” Rose exclaimed. “In America, we keep our statues of disgraced politicians up,” and spent the remainder of their ride enlightening everyone about how Southern states still displayed monuments to their insurrectionist — and losing — generals.

They drove through the rings of Moscow at dusk and into the center of the city down Mir Street, newly renamed to honor peace.

“We make new roads, new parks, new sports center for the athletic demonstrations, all for festival,” the boy Komsomol boasted.

“What was there before?” Jonas wondered.

“Also Hotel Ukraina. Is tallest hotel in USSR. In Europe. In world, also. Two hundred and six meters! One thousand and twenty-six rooms! You are to be staying here.”

“What was there — “ Jonas tried to repeat politely before Rose flashed him a warning look. There was no need to aggravate their hosts. Besides, what used to be didn’t matter. Only what was there now and what would be in the future. It’s why they were in the USSR, wasn’t it?

“Our Youth Festival will also be biggest,” Boy Komsomol recited. “34,000 people coming from 131 countries! You will have many audience for your show.”

Rose, once again, struggled to keep her face unbiased, objective, and disinterested, but inside, her heart expanded and sped up until she could hear the pounding in her ears and feel it vibrating all through her body. Not unlike when she’d first met Jonas. This was all she’d ever wanted. An audience. Not for herself but for the progressive ideas she was lucky enough to be able to present. She was just a conduit. A cog in a machine. But not a capitalist, exploitative machine. A machine there to serve the people. She was nothing. The message was everything.

Despite Rose’s unbiased, objective and disinterested face, Jonas understood what this meant to her. He slipped an arm around Rose’s shoulders and squeezed them supportively, smiling, and leaning over to give Rose a kiss on the temple. All three Komsomols and the ethnic garb girl made a point of discreetly looking out their respective windows for the duration.

They arrived at Hotel Ukraina, where Rose and Jonas were ushered to the front desk, and given keys to two separate rooms on two separate floors. Once again, Jonas opened his mouth to ask — Rose knew exactly what he was going to ask, he was going to ask for them to room together. And, once again, Rose shut him down with a single look.

Not because she thought their Soviet hosts would object to an unmarried couple sharing a room. The USSR was much more progressive in such matters than puritanical, provincial America. A few years earlier, a Chekoslovakian sexologist conference had decreed that women in Socialist countries enjoyed more fulfilling sex lives due to their countries’ social and cultural context, which offered complete equality among the sexes. Naturally, feminists in the West had objected, attempting to discredit the Eastern Bloc’s achievements by claiming that because they weren’t established via independent women’s movements but imposed from the top down by a committee of males, they were somehow inferior. But that was the West for you. Completely failing to realize that the artificial distinction between men and women was just another ploy by capitalism to keep the masses from realizing that they were all workers engaged in the same struggle. It was yet another division tactic, nothing more.

And, of course, Rose didn’t for so much as a moment consider that she and Jonas might be condemned for being an interracial couple. Just like gender discrimination, the Soviet Union had long moved past such silly, superficial differences. 

The only reason Rose quickly and almost imperceptibly shook her head to keep Jonas from asking his question was because she didn’t want to make extra work for the Komsomol members who’d greeted them. She was being courteous and polite. She was most certainly not being a coward.

“We will need your passports, please,” still smiling, one of the girls, Komsomols held out her hand. 

“Why?” That question came instinctively from Rose. Once again, she blamed jet lag and stupidity.

“Is procedure,” her smile never wavered. “For safety. Your safety.”

Jonas tapped the outside of his inner jacket pocket. “We’re fine. Thank you.”

“Is procedure,” she repeated. Her hand never wavering, either.

“Of course.” Rose told herself she was continuing to be courteous and polite. She was certainly not being a coward when she handed over her own documents.

Jonas hesitated. Rose told herself she didn’t blame him. Unlike her, Jonas wasn’t as familiar with the way things were done in Socialist countries, always for the good of the whole rather than the individual, with the understanding that the best interests of the collective trickled down to each member of the masses. It wasn’t Jonas’s fault that he’d been brainwashed into believing in individualism or the propaganda he’d been force-fed about the dangers of Winston Churchill’s mythical “iron curtain.” Considering how horrifically Jonas’s people had been treated by the American government, of course, he found it impossible to recognize a government that existed solely for his welfare. But he would learn. That’s what they were here for. To learn.

In the meantime, Rose told herself that she was still being courteous and polite, that it wasn’t a fear of public embarrassment and a possible withdrawal of her festival invitation that prompted her to look pleadingly at Jonas, wordlessly begging him to go along, to not make a scene. Please… for her….

As always, Jonas received Rose’s unvoiced message.

He didn’t look thrilled, but after a long beat when the five of them stood as if trapped in a game of freeze tag, Jonas reached into the same pocket he’d tapped earlier, withdrew the only official document listing him as an American citizen, and gingerly handed it over to the same girl who’d already palmed Rose’s passport.

Only for you, Miss Janowitz….


Rose had done her research before coming. She understood that her Othello would face competition, at least in memory, from previous Soviet productions. The poet and novelist Boris Pasternak had translated it, employing a colloquial, modern Russian vernacular. But as he was now out of favor due to that year’s Italian publication of his non-social realist, anti-Soviet fiction, “Doctor Zhivago,” Rose pretended she’d never heard of it, the same way the rest of the USSR was currently doing. There was also the Sergei Yutkevitch film, which won the Director’s Award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. Rose completely understood the point Yurkevitch was trying to make by casting a Slavic actor in the title role. In his reading, Othello was oppressed not due to his race, but due to his class, a more appropriate topic for Soviet audiences, as the former was not a problem in their country, while they must always remain vigilant for the emergence of the latter. Class had been the point of Rose’s reimagining, as well, it’s how she’d pitched it to all the outlets which turned her down. She was in complete agreement with the designated Socialist reading of the text. Yet, she couldn’t get past the conviction that removing Othello’s race from the equation demeaned and dismissed him. It erased the lived experience of actors like Jonas.

But Rose couldn’t quite come out and say so. It would be discourteous and impolite. So, when asked what made her staging different from those that came before, Rose stressed her mounting of a Shakespeare play in its original English, to give audiences from around the world a taste of its poetic language without sacrificing the anti-capitalist message. She didn’t dwell on the subversion of casting a Negro in the lead. Except when asked by Soviet reporters about the racism Jonas faced in America and why he could not have played the role there. Jonas being a Negro was not relevant to the story Rose was telling. Except for when it was. 

Rose thought she wouldn’t be able to sleep at all the night before their first rehearsal. Much to her surprise, her eyes were closed before she tried pulling the hotel blanket up to her chin, struggling a bit when all she was able to grasp was a handful of the starched duvet, unused to the lack of top sheet. Rose slept the entire night through. Tormented by dreams where she couldn’t communicate with her actors or crew, not due to the language barrier, but because, when they looked at her, they could see exactly the fraud Rose really was.

In some ways, reality proved to be a letdown from the night terrors. Rose had been so looking forward to working with her Soviet colleagues. She relished the opportunity to collaborate in an environment where every worker was an equal, and not the capitalist model, where the fat cat who paid the bills, or, at best, the class traitor overseer deputized by the fat cat who paid the bills, was presumed to always be in the right creatively, because, as they said, whoever paid the piper picked the tune. This wouldn’t be a repeat of Irna and her pen of doom. Everyone’s ideas would be listened to, and evaluated, and only the best ones would be implemented.

Or so Rose imagined. But once work actually started in the earnest, she was surprised by how quickly and meekly her instructions were followed. The actors stood where she told them to, and delivered their lines in the manner she instructed. The set designers approved her sketches without a peep. As did the costume designer, the lighting designer, and the audio engineer. There were no questions, no discussions, and certainly no dissent. It was the most peaceful and harmonious production Rose had ever been involved with. She should have been ecstatic. Wasn’t this what she’d abandoned America for? The chance to be creative without the interference of networks and sponsors? Why then, did it all feel so…dull?

She wished she could discuss it with Jonas. But opportunities for private conversation were proving nonexistent. On the one hand, Rose was thrilled that Jonas was finally being feted and treated like the star he was always meant to be. The other actors deferred to him. The crew constantly double-checked that everything was to his liking. There’d already been several glowing features on him in Pravda, with photos, and Rose had been assured their opening night review would be a rave. She couldn’t imagine such things happening in the States.

On the other hand, they were both so busy Rose hadn’t said a word that wasn’t about the show to her fiance in days. While the actors periodically had downtime when a set was being moved, a light adjusted, a music cue finessed, Rose was involved in every technical aspect, too. She ate while listening to her craftsmen explain their latest obstacle — though she knew Mama would describe it as uncouth. She drank the cups of tea she was constantly being handed while sitting in the audience, trying to gauge how her efforts would look to customers, and she used her time in the lavatory to scribble stage directions in her scripts. Rose didn’t want to know how Mama would feel about that.

The only chance Rose had to come up for air was at the end of the workday, when she and Jonas were driven around by the same three Komsomolniks who’d greeted them the first day to see the sights of Moscow. They visited the Kremlin and Red Square. They saw Lenin lying in state in his mausoleum, looking as small as a ventriloquist’s puppet, only not quite so lifelike. They marched through Gorky Park and sped through the Tretyakov Art Gallery. At the end of each evening’s excursion, Rose and Jonas were deposited back at their hotel, where he was escorted to his room and she to hers. Rose supposed they could have snuck out and met up after their hosts had left for the night. But creeping down the darkened hallways while the matron who sat by the elevator doors watched her disapprovingly was an uneasy prospect.

The one day Rose and Jonas got off from their feverish work was for the opening ceremonies of the festival. Held in Lenin Central Stadium, Rose thought it put any Olympic festivities to shame. She lost count of how many thousands of cheering young people were packed into the stands, or how many proudly strode around the running oval, holding up their countries’ flags, wearing their national costumes, performing their ethnic dances, and waving to spectators who included no less than Nikita Khrushchev himself! There were Chinese dragons and African drums, Arab robes, Spanish headdresses, and even, goodness, even Americans bearing flowers right alongside Soviet hammers and sickles. Balloons flew into the blinding blue sky. Forty thousand specifically bred white doves were released in the name of peace. Finally, as the sun set, hundreds of performers swarmed the field, forming swirling, geometric shapes and, at the end, picking up placards that first created the shape of a nuclear bomb, then flipped them over for the universal symbol for “no,” and, as a last, indelible image, spelled out the word, MIR, PEACE, PAXIS. Boys and girls of all colors, all nationalities, religions, castes, and classes were dancing and hugging and laughing and crying, and, more than anything, Rose wished she were down there with them, but also so grateful that she was at least here to witness it. She turned to Jonas and grabbed his hand. This was how life could be. This was how life should be. After witnessing such unity and brotherhood, such complete indifference to race, class, gender, and all of those other categorizations they’d been taught were not just necessary but inevitable, how could they ever return to the divisiveness of the United States?


“I’d like to show you something.” The afternoon of their premiere, the one afternoon they’d had off in weeks in anticipation of the work they’d be doing that evening, Jonas managed to catch Rose at the theater during a moment when she wasn’t surrounded by associates or reporters or their inevitable escorts. Everyone was wiped out from the blood they’d poured into putting this production on its feet, not to mention vibrating with nerves over how it might be received – despite the already promised Pravda rave.

“When?” Rose startled. “Where?”

“Now,” Jonas said, and gestured past the door of the theater. “Out there.”

Rose looked around nervously. “I don’t think we’re supposed to leave on our own. We… we might get lost.”

“I know where I’m going,” Jonas reassured.

“We should tell someone….”

“No.” On this, he was firm. “Not this time.”

“It would be rude,” she began. But Jonas cut her off.

“For me, Rose,” he said. “Please do this for me.”

It didn’t feel right. No one had told Rose she wasn’t allowed to venture out on her own. She knew she was free to do so, anything else would be ridiculous. So why did the prospect of stepping out unaccompanied make her so anxious? She didn’t fear for her safety. The streets of Moscow were much less dangerous than those of New York, for Pete’s sake. The USSR had no murderers, no perverts, no purse snatchers, not like America. There was no drive to commit crime when all your needs were provided for by the state, and gratis medical care made it, so no mentally ill people were left to their own devices. 

Rose had no reason to be scared.

While she had every reason in the world to tell Jonas, “Only for you.”


Click here for Chapter #26!


To start Go On Pretending at the beginning, click here.


Alina Adams is the New York Times best-selling author of the As the World Turns tie-ins, Oakdale Confidential and The Man From Oakdale, and Guiding Light’s Jonathan’s Story. Check out her new historical fiction, My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region, out now! Only $.99 cents in January 2023!

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Alina Adams
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