The Bard SummerScape festival in Annandale-on-Hudson presents the world première of an original stage adaptation of The Master and Margarita (1937) by Mikhail Bulgakov. The Master and Margarita is widely recognized as one of the greatest and most beloved Russian novels of the 20th century. SummerScape’s theatrical adaptation 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: an exploration of miracles, madness, and the magic of theater itself. The Master and Margarita will be presented in ten performances between July 11 and 21 in Theater Two of the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, on Bard’s glorious Hudson Valley campus.
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 régime 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.”
“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.”
He and Lester have already collaborated together on a number of projects – including their own highly successful and “spectacularly poetic” (Boston Phoenix) adaptation of Mother Courage at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge, MA, where Lester worked as Acting Artistic Director. Among Szász’s seven ART productions was The Seagull, of which the Boston Globe observed: “What Szász has done is to create a strange new world for Chekhov’s play and also to pay careful, deep attention to the emotional and intellectual depths of the text. He’s not just messing with it for the sake of showy effect; he’s reimagining it in order to remain true to his understanding of its deepest essence. … The production fully succeeds.”
In addition to his work for ART, Szász has numerous important stage productions to his name in Russia and his native Hungary, as well as eleven motion pictures that include Woyzeck (1994), winner of a European Film Award. He is joined at Bard by Audelco Award-winner Maruti Evans, who undertakes The Master and Margarita’s set and lighting design; Romanian costume designer Oana Botez, whose New York credits include productions at BAM and the Public Theater; and sound designer Ien DeNio, a nominee for the 2013 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Sound Design.
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.
As Pontius Pilate (and other roles) is Michael Medeiros, best known for film roles in X-Men: First Class, Margot at the Wedding, and Synecdoche, New York and for his recurring role on TV’s Law & Order. Ean Sheehy, who recently gave “a performance of great sensitivity, compassion and yes, humor” (New York Times) in the leading role of Red-Eye to Havre de Grace, plays the hapless poet Ivan (and other roles), while Danny Wolohan, named one of the only seven American actors worth traveling to see by American Theatre magazine, undertakes Woland’s henchman Azazello (and other roles). As Koroviev and Behemoth the cat (and other roles), Mickey Solis and Peter Macklin complete Woland’s diabolical entourage, and four members of the Bard College Theater Program’s graduating class – Schuyler Helford, Hannah Mitchell, Sonia Feigelson, and Alexander Setzko – round out the first-rate ensemble cast.
The Master and Margarita (1937)
Adaptation by János Szász and Gideon Lester after the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov (1891 – 1940)
Suitable for audiences of age 15 and older (contains nudity)
Woland: Ronald Guttman
Master: Arliss Howard
Behemoth and others: Peter Macklin
Pontius Pilate and others: Michael Medeiros
Margarita: Stephanie Roth Haberle
Ivan and others: Ean Sheehy
Koroviev and others: Mickey Solis
Azazello and others: Danny Wolohan
Sonia Feigelson (Bard College, Class of 2013)
Schuyler Helford (Bard College, Class of 2013)
Hannah Mitchell (Bard College, Class of 2013)
Alexander Setzko (Bard College, Class of 2013)
Director and adaptor: János Szász
Adaptor: Gideon Lester
Set and lighting designer: Maruti Evans
Costume designer: Oana Botez
Sound designer: Ien DeNio
Movement: Doug Elkins
Casting: Judy Bowman
Thursday, July 11 at 7:30pm
Friday, July 12 at 7:30pm
Saturday, July 13 at 7:30pm *
Sunday, July 14 at 3pm *
Wednesday, July 17 at 3pm
Thursday, July 18 at 7:30pm
Friday, July 19 at 7:30pm
Saturday, July 20 at 3pm
Saturday, July 20 at 7:30pm
Sunday, July 21 at 3pm *
Featured image: The Master and Margarita Courtesy of Bulgakov House, Moscow
Enhanced by Carol Zaloom
*Round-trip transportation from Manhattan to Bard is available exclusively to ticket holders for this performance. The round-trip fare is $40 and reservations are required. Visit fishercenter.bard.edu/transportation for more information.
SummerScape theater performances are held in Theater Two in Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry and celebrated since its opening as a major architectural landmark in the region.
Performances of The Master and Margarita have been underwritten by the Martin and Toni Sosnoff Foundation.
For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845 – 758-7900 or visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu.