Ensemble: Marius Mazmanian, Robin Fuqua, Adam Grimes, Ricardo Zeger, Tim O’Shea, Mami Arizono, Bill McCormack, Ben Simonetti, Beth Dement, Kara Zediliker , Antony Sandoval, Tracy Hudak, Brett Radford, Laura Esposito, John Sylvain.
In the words of devil incarnate Woland (Ben Davis), “Manuscripts don’t burn.” Indeed! Russian physician-turned-writer Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) never lived to see his masterwork published. Yet, 27 years after his death, his novel rose from the ashes of Soviet censorship to be published in 1967. Aided immensely by director Loren Rubin’s sumptious, expressionistic staging and a large, amazingly facile ensemble, adapters Richard Helweg and Michael Franco have turned Bulgakov’s epic work into an extravagantly sensual and rewarding comedia of the macabre.
Inspired by Goethe’s “Faust,” Bulgakov’s text follows three intertwined story lines. Unhappily married Margarita (Kelly Lynn Doherty) has found her true love in the Master (Steven Sennett), a deeply introspective writer who is being driven mad by the Soviet bureaucracy’s refusal to publish his magnum opus.
This novel, centered on the psyche-ravaging turmoils of Pontius Pilate (Bruno Oliver) over the crucifixion of Christ (Joe Seely), is the second story.
Bombarding everyone’s life are the shenanigans of lower depths ruler Woland and his unholy minions who have come to Moscow to observe this radical political experiment known as Communism, which claims to do away with one of Woland’s most effective human foibles, selfishness.
Facilitated by the evocative sets, lights and costumes of James Wetherell, Eric Snodgrass and Maro Parian/Sofi Khachmanyan, respectively, Rubin charges through the text without ever blurring the individual storylines. By play’s end, the ensemble has emphatically underscored Bulgakov’s efforts to examine “the relationship between truth and history, and the conflict between moral courage and self preservation.”
The director’s efforts are further enhanced by the inspired musical backing of Jef Bek and his band of Slavic wannabes (especially violinist Kathleen Edwards).
At the heart of the production’s success are the charismatic performances of Davis’s Woland and his gleefully evil devil’s aids, including the comically vicious human-sized cat Behemoth (Peter Alton), Hella the vampire (Dylan Jones), the ever droll, stilt-walking Koroviev (D Morris) and the understated but sardonic devil’s messenger Azazello (Davide Razowksy).
It is their antics that supply such stunning visuals as the bewitched, naked form of Margarita flying over the Moscow rooftops on the backs of human-sized crows.