A storm is upon New York, but it has nothing to do with Winter or the chills of the holiday season.

It is a storm of emotions and feelings, rebellion and shattering reality, put on stage by the visionary talent of Maestro Aleksey Burago who masterfully directs a wisely selected and extremely talented cast of actors.

Performed in English, this adaptation for the stage of Bulgakov’s masterpiece by Jean-Claude Van Itallie -from a translation by Sergei Kobiakoff – also features Lighting Design by Conor Mulligan and Set Design by Leon Joosen in the intimate and essential context offered by The Russian Arts Theater and Studio of Manhattan, NY: for the delight and amusement of New Yorkers and visitors the show will be running until January 27th, 2019; the easiest way to check available dates and purchase tickets is to visit the event page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/ratsensemble.

The richly international and diverse cast features Charles Anderson, Bruce Braun, Michael Donaldson, Roman Freud, Kristina Korop, Alex Malyi, Luisa Menzen, Ariel Polanco, Riccardo Ripani, David A. Russell, Paulo Quiros, Tom Schubert, Shadrach Stanleigh, Desen Uygur and Di Zhu.

As Maestro Burago told us in the interview that will soon be available on Livein TV, at the following link (https://www.youtube.com/channel/LiveinTV) of our YouTube Channel, being a keen follower and teacher of Stanislavsky and Michael Chekhov techniques, in assembling the cast for this pièce, he wanted a group of actors able to put in place a choral and strong group performance, as well as artists with the compelling presence, confidence, and ability for their individual performances as Chekov’s method requires: and they deliver. Undisputedly.

Each actor looks and sounds confident and at ease in their respective roles and the chemistry among the cast is palpable, allowing the spectators to immediately dive in the story and immerse themselves in the magical, rocambolesque and emotionally intense universe created by Bulgakov: all this, combined with the sapient and dynamic direction of Maestro Burago almost make you forget that this show is one of the most complicated, engaging and difficult ones to put on stage (only Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus maybe gets close enough for a comparison).

Among a wonderful crew, I believe in particular two performers are also able to stand out: Roman Freud as Woland/The Devil and Di Zhu as Margarita. The personal body language and the range of facial expressions of Mr. Roman, combined with an owlish and clever use of the Polish-Russian accent, lead to a very convincing and entertaining portrait of the protagonist/deus ex machina of the entire story.

Mrs. Zhu – for her part – with her talent, passion and sophisticated elegant beauty offers a striking, emotional and involving representation of the co-protagonist of the story: she is able to take the spectator by hand over the emotional, intense, crazy rollercoaster of events that will ultimately set Margarita free forever along with her beloved Master.

I feel it is also worth to point out the performance of Luisa Menzen as Hella and Paulo Quiros as Pontius Pilate. Mrs. Menzen amazes with a realistic and intriguing naturalness and spontaneity in presenting on stage the spicy, cynical, evil-ish, naughty witch who is one of the most loyal ‘acolyte’ of Bulgakov’s Devil, and loves to laugh at humans’ weaknesses, to lure everybody with lust and drag them into sin.

Mr. Quiros – on a different note – is capable of letting the spectators perceive the humanity and conflicted personality of the man that is considered an ‘Enemy of the History’ and the incarnation of disservice of justice, which is exactly what very likely Bulgakov meant when drawing such a controversial character the way he did. Mr. Quiros’s interpretation is spotless and seamlessly consistent, making him a great Pilate.

The Master and Margarita is such a complex, articulated, controversial, modern and fascinating story and offers so many layers of interpretation that makes very hard to call out a predominant topic, but I believe that it is enlightening what Maestro Burago told me during our interview about ‘Compassion’ being a distinctive feature of the novel on which he wants to focus on in this play, a sentiment that the Director likes to perceive and present as universal, and as a possible way for humankind to learn how to better relate and be empathetic towards other human beings, to be forgiving and willing to give somebody else a second chance. Isn’t it ultimately how we wish people should be when we need them?

Witness for yourself the amazing journey of a timeless universal story. At The Russian Arts Theater and Studio of Manhattan, NY. Until January 27th, 2019.

Article, photos, and interview by Joseph Ralph Fraia


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