Spotlight: The Master and Margarita

Justin Christy

Mikhail Bulgakov lived a sort of double life while taking decades to write The Master and Margarita, endlessly revising his seditious manuscript (even burning it at one point) and re-shaping a jewel that could well have landed him in a Stalin-era labor camp, had its contents become known. This U of M adaptation (directed by Luverne Seifert and Michael Sommers) splendidly plugs into the book's atmosphere of creepy repression and intimates the bilious rancor Bulgakov felt toward the social realities of Soviet living. The plot is broken down to its barest skeleton, with the Master (Noah Rios) and Margarita (Kayla McCarthy) representing star-crossed lovers, their difficulties exacerbated by the demonic Woland (Christopher Kehoe, enthusiastically devilish). The action takes place all over the West Bank Arts Quarter, rushing the audience from one startlingly imaginative vignette to the next. Seifert and Sommers have brewed up a production that plays fabulously to a student cast. There's a weirdly filmic episode viewed long-distance through the woods, and a nuthouse theater segment with acrobatics and strangely perverse musicians clanging away. Meanwhile, figure screens and projections leave the audience wondering what bold image might be coming next. By all means see this show—it's free with a reservation, and plays only through this weekend. And by all means don't wear nice pants, which I did: You'll be sitting in the grass, on cement, on leaves, and, quite memorably for my posterior, on gravel. The mild discomfort is more than leavened by the dreamy richness of this experience, a show with a genuine edge of psychic danger to match its restless and uncanny source. Bulgakov's novel wasn't published until 26 years after his death; 40 years later, you can see a group of drama students wrestling with his pessimistic vision and the bleak, cranky, pissed-off humor that goes with it. The Master and Margarita is the perfect show, in other words, to take in before your show trial for treason.

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