The Bulgarian actress, who was often mentioned in the company of American superstar Betty White as two of the oldest actors still in business, acquired many nicknames describing her talent over the years. From “Grandmother of the Bulgarian Theatre” to “Typhoon with a gentle name,” “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” “The Fury,” “The Bad Girl of the Bulgarian Theatre,” and “Mrs. Natural Disaster,” these nicknames paint a picture of a woman hard at work and loving every second of it.
Stoyana-Maria Mutafova, hero of the town square
Born in 1922, Stoyana-Maria Mutafova grew up in a home known for welcoming some of Bulgaria’s brightest artists at the time, courtesy of her father, Konstantin Mutafov, a playwright at the National Theatre in Sofia. The yard of the house was my first stage,” recalls Mutafova in “Hero of the Town Square,” a documentary on her life produced by the Bulgarian National Television.
However, the jump from a home stage to a real stage wasn’t easy. For starters, her first critic was her own father. Mutafova even found a letter in which Konstantin Mutafov asked the director of the National Theatre and chairman of the examination committee at the theatre school not to accept his daughter. Her father didn’t mince words: “Have mercy on this talentless woman; let the insects leave her head,” he wrote. Mutafova’s first attempt at getting accepted at the theater academy might have proved her father right: Stoyana didn’t make the cut. And yet, she kept trying. After being accepted as a student, she would finally step onto the professional stage, where the young actress would occasionally perform in plays written by her demanding father.
“Even the dogs will know you”
A curious history precedes Mutafova’s fame. Once, on her way out of a lecture, she met a woman of Roma origin. This woman said to her, “You know, one day you will be a hero on the town square, and even the dogs will know you.” In 1956, Stoyana Mutafova and another colossus of comedy in Bulgaria, Georgi Kaloyanchev, undertook the difficult task of opening a Satirical Theatre in Sofia. They are considered the pillars of the troupe, which was joined by some of Bulgaria’s biggest stars over the years.
As it turns out, the fortune-teller’s vision came true; there was hardly a person who wouldn’t have heard of Mutafova. However, according to Pencho Kovachev, author of many books about notable Bulgarians, until 1989, the great Bulgarian actress had not played a single leading role. That didn’t seem to bother her fans, who would buy tickets for her performances months in advance or watch her movies many times with devotion. Her last role was in “Sofia Residents in Excess,” a hit TV series where Mutafova played wisecracking grandma Mariyka.
The many faces of comedy
“Stoyanka Mutafova was a master of the comedy image in its wide varieties – from irony through sharp satire to the strong grotesque. Her laughter appealed both to the ordinary spectator and to the sophisticated theatre connoisseur, “Krum Gergitsov, literary and theatre critic, tells 3Seas Europe. “Until her death, the stage was for her the place where every image was a remarkable theatrical bacchanalia. But the laughter in her art contained a great deal of sadness. Many roles played on the stage of the Satirical Theatre remained unforgettable. On reflection, however, there seems to be no deep analytical study of her comic art,” Gergitsov adds.
In 2016, when she was a dignified 94 years old, Stoyanka Mutafova carried out an extensive tour of the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Britain. “The years and the work do not tire me. Very rarely on the stage was I bored. I fully lived with all my tragedies, dramas, and highs. I have had many catastrophes in life. I have overcome them by looking forward,” the formidable Mutafova says in her book “Confessions on Slippers.”
Her lessons are not lost on her fans.