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Atmospheric Pleasures in a Jam-Packed 'Margarita'


After a few too many hidebound, domesticated evenings in the theater--those dreaded nights of the living "eh"--it's great to soak up an unruly bucket of wonders like Zoo District's "The Master and Margarita."

True to its source material, the Mikhail Bulgakov novel, and to the source's source (Goethe's "Faust"), the Zoo District production creates an eerie, funny world ripe for the devil's picking. We're in 1930s Moscow under Stalin. Several stories interweave in Richard Helweg and Michael Franco's adaptation. The Master (Steven Sennett) has written a daring revisionist novel about Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ, scenes of which we see on stage. But the novel remains unpublished, suppressed.

The Master's lover, Margarita (Kelly Lynn Doherty), falls under the spell of one Azazello (Davide Razowksy), one of several auxiliary evildoers in the employ of Mr. Woland (Ben Davis), Satan himself. Another crony is Behemoth (Peter Alton), a human-sized cat with a taste for bloody mischief.

First, though, we're introduced to poor young Ivan (Joe Fria, overworking the tics and reactions), the devil's first official acquaintance in Moscow. Chasing down the murderous Woland, he ends up in an asylum for his trouble. There he meets the Master; at the same time, across town at a theater, Woland and company put on a little show of magic for the Muscovites.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 18, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Theater review--A review of "The Master and Margarita" in Thursday's Calendar incorrectly reported the names of actor David Razowsky and costume designer Mara Parian.

"The Master and Margarita" was begun in 1929, finished in 1940 and suppressed in the Soviet Union until 1967. This adaptation began life in Chicago in 1994 and, revised extensively, makes its L.A. debut here. It's an overpacked evening, to be sure. Director Loren Rubin's cast sometimes strains to find the nightmarish comic style of Bulgakov.

But the atmospheric pleasures keep coming. "The Master and Margarita" would be worthwhile if only for the costumes of Maro Parian and Sofi Khachmanyan. Fellini would've killed for them. The apparitions include a gaggle of ghostly white-faced grotesques, a stilt-walking dandy with bad teeth and a flying pig bearing a bewitched nude. (There's a fair bit of nudity.)

Musical director/composer Jef Bek leads a wonderful Slavic hurdy-gurdy of a band, with some especially sweet violin fills from Kathleen Edwards. Not everything in the production can keep pace with Bek's rousing, careening overture. But director Rubin understands the importance of that overture's comic urgency. The play is nothing without it.

The best images and sounds in this swirling "Master and Margarita" take you straight to Bulgakov's Moscow, then straight to hell and back again.


"The Master and Margarita," Zoo District, ArtShare Los Angeles, 801 E. 4th Place (at Hewitt), downtown. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 15. $13. (323) 769-5674. Running time: 3 hours.

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