The Master & Margarita

From the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov

the master and margarita at strawdog theatre
The Master and Margarita

Adapted by Edward Kemp

Directed by Louis Contey

At Strawdog Theatre, Chicago

“Manuscripts don’t burn”–The Master

Highly theatrical and imaginative production of Stalin-Ear Russian satirical is a masterpiece!

Under director Louis Contey and his creative team, Mikhail Bulgakov’s  stinging novel satirical of Russian bureaucratic censorship penned in the 1930’s (finished in 1940 but not published until 1967 with much censored Soviet edits), becomes a manically pleasing journey and a fine evening of theatre.

the master and margarita at strawdog theatre

Edward Kemp’s adaptation of the Bulgakov novel opens with a scene from a ‘play-within-a-play’ that depicts Pontius Pilate (Ian Maxwell) interrogating a loner rebellious person (Jesus Christ?). We quickly see that this  scene is a rehearsal of  The Master’s (Dennis Grimes) new play. This playwright is being hassled by the local Soviet censors.  He is desperately trying to get his script produced.  This pressure sends him into a deep despair  than even his lover, Margarita (Justine C. Turner) can get him to shake.  His play is shut down and rewritten and he is institutionalized for mental illness.

the master and margarita at strawdog theatre

Enter Woland – a “foreign professor” who is “in Moscow to present a performance of ‘black magic’ and then expose its machinations.” He is a Goethe’s Faust-type devil figure, who, together with his companions including a large talking black cat named Behemoth (Anderson Lawfer), have come to use their magic, violence and a party to show the bureaucrats that they can’t be censored.

This ambitious production has many interesting scenes with use of masks, movement, humor (even camp) to satirize the Russian bureaucracy.  The cast of 18 work hard making the complex and shifting  story moving while never slowing the pace nor the creativity.  Themes of cowardice, trust, intellectual curiosity, and redemption are vividly depicted with use of allegory and stinging satire.  The show is manic, well acted, especially by Dennis Grimes, The Master; Justine C. Turner, Margarita and Tom Hickey as Woland.  You’ll be impressed with the theatricality and surprised at the plot twists that cumulatively make for an effective play.  The judicious use of metaphor and imagery fuel this artful production. Contey’s production works nicely on  all levels. Kudos to Strawdog Theatre Company for attempting and succeeding in mounting an enticing production of The Master and Margarita. See this show  to witness one of the best storefront theatre productions this year!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 12, 2011

Jeff Recommended

For full show information, check out The Master and Margarita page at Theatre In Chicago.

At Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL,  call 773-528-9696, www.strawdog.org, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through April 2, 2011