Stalin for more time

‘The Master and Margarita’ see God when no one believes

Matt Graham

.The University’s department of theatre arts and dance, along with the help of the always-inventive Theatre de la Jeune Lune, seems to have a little of both hidden up its sleeve with its bewildering – yet strangely entertaining – production of “The Master and Margarita.”

The play is loosely adapted from Mikhail Bulgakov’s anti-Stalinist novel. Taking place in 1930s Soviet Russia, the play focuses on its namesakes – a critically panned writer of precarious sanity and his drink-named lover.

It’s clear from the beginning that something’s not quite right in this world. The play opens in Ferguson Hall’s outdoor amphitheater with a crowd of drunken revelers stamping their feet to the sounds of violin, accordion and percussion, shouting at the top of their lungs “Stalin is God and God is dead!”

As this Zarathustrian celebration takes place on the stage, cast members planted in the crowd whisper barely audible messages like, “Forget the past, it doesn’t last.”

Although the play begins in the amphitheater, it doesn’t stay there for long. The cast runs off, guiding the audience to a park on the side of Ferguson where Satanic powers reveal themselves to a prominent literary critic and a poet before ripping the critic’s head off.

When the poet tries to warn atheistic Moscow about the otherworldly dangers it is facing, she is put in an insane asylum with the Master. The Master has left the world and his lover Margarita, dejected over the public’s rejection of his historical book on Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ.

As the play continues to wind its way around Ferguson, the audience is treated to an ominous carnival freak show where Margarita makes a deal with the devil to reclaim her erstwhile lover.

But plot is secondary here. Switching locations from scene to scene with a rotating cast of bizarre and mostly unnamed characters, the unscripted play’s greatest charm is its eerie ambiance.

Cast members continue to whisper throughout the crowd through the entirety of the production. The dialogue consists of a series of meditations on religion, art, love and time – “Is everything ended? Nothing ends!” “There is no need for history.”

The play, performed with gusto by a cast of more than 30 University students, is alternately spooky, touching and hilarious.

This is the second time the University Theatre has staged a production of the play. Last fall, professor Michael Sommers’ class staged a single performance. This year they’ve brought it back as a two-week engagement, enlisting help from outside the University to put together a highly disorienting, tightly choreographed, hauntingly surreal production.

Staged as it is outside, under the chilly skies of October evenings, the macabre performance is a perfect warm-up for Halloween.