things about stuff
By Dany Margolies
Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov understood pride of homeland. He understood humanity's even greater need for substantial relationships. And like the White Russians fleeing their homes in the backwash of the Revolution, he faced his own crises of write and flight. At last his Flight has landed here, a U.S. premiere in Los Angeles, historically a haven for Russian expat artists and home to lovingly produced theatre.
The work, adapted by Steven Haworth from a translation by Katharine G. Shirey, finds a vivid imagining by director Charles Otte, an epic undertaking that consistently impels our interest. Staged to perfection, sumptuously visual, this production is universal and intimate. From chilly beginnings in Russia in October 1920, where life appears hopeless, through a dispossessed state in the Crimea, and into a sun-drenched, warmhearted Constantinople in autumn 1921, we follow a panoply of humanity—aristocracy, military, intelligentsia, clergy, young, old, thieves, and drones—caught in the maelstrom of honestly and dishonestly conceived social change and trying to learn Bulgakov's lesson: "Everything comes from love, and its absence is nothingness."
The massive cast includes the stellar talents of Will Kepper as the horrifying General of the White army and Arizona Brooks as the exquisitely fragile aristocrat, Serafima. Kepper's emotions ebb and flow; Brooks' emotions are crystalline but kept delicately within her character's prescribed behavior. Their work is aided by Joe Zanetti as a passionate young professor smitten with and protective of Serafima, Patrick Tuttle as a once reprehensible major-general who softens in the southern sunlight (turning in a well-crafted gambling scene), and even a tidy performance by the tiny Ananya Kepper as the Stationmaster's young daughter. Tisha Terrasini, Indrajit Sarkar, and Shawn Hausmann also deliver notable performances. While a few minor characters lack flesh or are generalized here, most of the actors are attuned to the work's remorseless drive. And while some of the comedy is broad, there's no reason it shouldn't be—Bulgakov's world has become an increasingly absurd circus.
Technical elements are flawless, including the impeccable set design (Bill Eigenbrodt and Meghan Rogers), enriched with evocative projections (Robert Conner), and the descriptive lighting (Otte); the textured, partly representational, and partly mysterious sound design (Peter Carlstedt); costume design (Melanie Watnick), including appropriate footwear, and topped by wig/hair/makeup design (Sugano), and innumerable props (Terrasini and Ina Russell).
From its opening imagery of lonesomeness and cruelty to its bittersweet, congenial ending, which leaves us with an overwhelming sense of contentment, this production convinces us to appreciate the evanescence of life and the essential power of good theatre.
"Flight," presented by and at the Open Fist Theatre Company, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Apr. 12-May 18. $15-20. (323) 882-6912.
April 20, 2002|DARYL H. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER
While the world watches a real-life drama about the love invested in a homeland and the blood shed over it, the Open Fist Theatre Company is wrestling with those themes in a staging of "Flight," by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov.
Written in the mid- to late 1920s and banned before it could be presented in the fledgling Soviet Union, the play revisits the final days of the Russian Revolution and civil war, as the opposing armies murder and lay waste to the very things they profess to hold dear.
In a version freely adapted by Steven Haworth and staged by Charles Otte, the story unfolds as a fevered dream. The actors are mirrored in glass panels, and the world around them keeps dissolving--effects achieved by the evanescent interplay of Bill Eigenbrodt and Meghan Rogers' set and Robert Conner's projections.
Yet while the presentation is haunting and beautiful, it is also messy and baffling. Abrupt stylistic shifts and elliptical meanings make the proceedings difficult to follow, and not all 16 performers are equal to the complex tasks set out for them.
In "Flight," Bulgakov--whose later masterwork would be the novel "The Master and Margarita"--follows the last remnants of pre-revolutionary Russia as they are pushed out of their homeland by the Red Army's advance.
Key characters include Maj. Gen. Grigory Charnota (Patrick Tuttle) and Gen. Roman Kludhov (Will Kepper), White Army commanders who are bitterly frustrated by their inability to stem the Red tide, and Sergei Golubkov (Joe Zanetti) and Serafima Korzukhina (Arizona Brooks), civilians seeking what little protection the defeated army can still provide.
Both the Red and White armies commit atrocities as they pass across the land, murdering those they suspect of sympathizing with the other side. Haunted by guilt for the zeal with which he ordered his countrymen hung, Gen. Kludhov will later realize, "It was all for nothing. It was all pointless."
Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends May 18.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 8
BY STEVEN MIKULAN
Although Mikhail Bulgakov will forever be known for his novel The Master and Margarita, he first became a literary sensation as a playwright during that very brief golden age of Russian revolutionary art that flourished in the first half of the 1920s. By the time Flight was ready to premiere in 1926, however, the Stalinist frost was already settling on Soviet culture, and the play was never performed during Bulgakov’s lifetime. Its story begins in an Orthodox monastery, where a disparate group of people are holed up awaiting the final turn of battle tide between the Red Army and White Cossacks.
Besides the clergymen and a collection of White Army officers, there is Serafima (Arizona Brooks), the beautiful but typhoid-stricken wife of a government official, and Sergei (Joe Zanetti), an academic who has platonically attached himself to this delirious woman. Bulgakov creates a warring family of characters who are both frightening and sweet, a range that combines in the person of Roman Kludhov (Will Kepper), a White general who, in the closing days of the war, has resorted to hanging anyone who displeases him. In a way, Kludhov is just as mad as Serafima is feverish; in fact, he and the war are so far gone that he has entered a dangerous state of Zen-like calm.
Act 2 shifts to a kind of buffoonery that makes it seem like another play, although Bulgakov craftily has it appear as a logical extension of Act 1. Everyone is now living in Turkish exile: Serafima, frail but recovered, is a permanent houseguest of a former White general, Grigory Charnota (Patrick Tuttle), and his mistress, Lyuska (Tisha Terrasini). Although Serafima does little around their apartment, Charnota is forced to sell dolls in a Constantinople market while Lyuska earns the rent by whoring herself out. Sergei, now a strolling accordion player, teams up with Charnota in a wild scheme to wheedle some money from Serafima‘s former husband, who lives comfortably in Paris.
Director Charles Otte has done a remarkable job presenting this U.S. premiere of Flight. His design team works wonders to help conjure not only a long-ago period but also a mood of utter despair that is transformed into airy comedy: Bill Eigenbrodt and Meghan Rogers’ set, dominated by revolving mirrored panels; Robert Conner‘s site-suggestive slide projections; Peter Carlstedt’s crisp sound design; Otte‘s own lighting plot; and, above all, Melanie Watnick’s detailed costumes. The problem with a production so reliant upon atmosphere and historical re-creation as Flight is that the acting has to be uniformly at peak level, which is not the case here. However, Kepper‘s turn as the ruthless yet generous Kludhov is so commanding that it almost covers for the ensemble’s unevenness. Kepper‘s nuanced performance makes this former tyrant’s death wish to return to revolutionary Russia a graceful elegy for a country awakening from one nightmare only to find itself in another.
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