Adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s "The Master and Margarita" Gets World Premiere Staging
(ANNANDALE-on-HUDSON, N.Y.) – An original stage adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, widely recognized as one of the greatest and most beloved Russian novels of the 20th century, will enjoy its world premiere as part of the Bard SummerScape festival in ten performances between Thursday, July 11, 2013, and Sunday, July 21, 2013, in Theater Two of the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, on Bard’s Hudson Valley campus.
SummerScape’s theatrical adaptation of Bulgakov’s 1937 novel — the most popular novel in Russia today – comes courtesy of visionary Hungarian director János Szász in collaboration with Gideon Lester, director of Bard’s Theater Programs. It is also Szász, whose previous stage adaptations of Bulgakov’s underground classic have already “made it big” (Moscow Times) at both the Hungarian National and Moscow Art theatres, who directs Bard’s new production.
Szász will bring to life a story of unceasing verve and imagination, a joyous and sometimes terrifying journey from the alleyways and garrets of Moscow to the stage of a theater, from the deserts of biblical Judea to the glittering splendor of the Devil’s ballroom. And at the still center of this supernatural frenzy stands a pair of lovers: the Master, a writer; and Margarita, who must journey to hell to save him. The journey begins one hot spring evening when a foreign professor appears in Moscow with a retinue that includes a beautiful naked witch and a giant talking cat with a taste for vodka. This elegant stranger is none other than the Devil, come to wreak havoc on the city and to demonstrate to a godless world the truth of good and evil.
As in previous seasons, SummerScape follows the theme of the Bard Music Festival, which this year explores “Stravinsky and His World,” celebrating the life and works of Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971). Like his contemporary Stravinsky, playwright and novelist Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940) was born into late 19th-century imperial Russia. Early criticisms of Bulgakov’s work as reactionary had by the mid-1920s hardened into uncompromising party line, and his satires of Soviet “agitprop” soon marked him as an enemy of the new social order. No longer able either to stage his plays or to publish, Bulgakov’s financial straits were such that he wrote to Stalin, begging for permission to emigrate or to see his plays produced. By way of compromise, the de facto Soviet leader personally arranged Bulgakov’s appointment as assistant director of the newly opened Moscow Art Theatre. It was there that the frustrated author would work until his death, now essentially colluding with the regime he deplored, and never seeing his own writing in print or production again.
These adversities are reflected in Bulgakov’s art, not least his undisputed masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, on which he worked in secret from 1928 until his death. Given its subversive (if encoded) satirical content, Bulgakov knew better than to attempt publication of the novel during his own lifetime. Indeed, it was not until the Brezhnev era that a portion of the text first appeared in Moskva magazine. Yet even in this incomplete, impermanent form, The Master and Margarita was an instant sensation. All 150,000 copies of the magazine sold out within hours, innumerable group readings were held, and certain lines promptly entered the vernacular. And this cult status was just the beginning: as a 2009 survey revealed, The Master and Margarita is the most popular novel in Russia today, with a major international following. It is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of 20th-century fiction.
This production of The Master and Margarita is the first major American stage adaptation in several decades. The novel is, however, frequently adapted in Europe, where many premier directors have turned it into a signature piece, including Frank Castorf, Simon McBurney, and Yuri Lubimov. It is, indeed, a highly theatrical novel: its pivotal scene takes place in a theater, where Woland and his retinue establish a base of operations from which to mystify and persecute the population of Moscow.
As Bard’s Director of Theater Programs Gideon Lester, who co-authored this adaptation with János Szász, explains: “It’s not a coincidence that Woland takes over a theater. In Stalinist Moscow the theaters were the only place that the public could actually congregate, because religion was outlawed and the churches were closed. There’s also something very theatrical about the way Woland and his crew operate; they are actors, shape-shifters, illusionists.”
Szász adds: “The Master and Margarita is really a book of miracles. But in the theater, the miracles are not the same as in life, so we are trying to provoke this thought: what kinds of miracles can we create in the theater? We’ll never deny that we are in the theater, but sometimes we want to mesmerize the audience.”
Anchoring Bard’s stellar cast as Woland is Ronald Guttman, among whose numerous TV credits are Mad Men, Lost, The West Wing, and Sex and the City, and whose upcoming film roles include collaborations with Zoe Saldana, Kristen Wiig, and Forest Whitaker. Guttman is joined by Stephanie Roth Haberle (Margarita), who has appeared on Broadway, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and at London’s Globe Theatre, as well as in such films as Crimes and Misdemeanors, Philadelphia, and Hollywood Ending. Opposite her as the Master is Arliss Howard, who established his film career with a standout role in Full Metal Jacket, and whose most recent work includes the feature film Moneyball, the AMC series Rubicon, and a CableAce Award-winning turn in HBO’s Somebody Has to Shoot the Picture.
This production of The Master and Margarita is “suitable for audiences of age 15 and older (contains nudity).”
For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit Fisher Center online.