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LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
One could follow George Kaufman famous quote "satire is what closes on Saturday night" with a wishful "Oh, for a satire that will still have you chuckling Sunday morning!" -- and now a gleeful, "Black Snow!"
Keith Reddin whose original play Brutality of Fact we liked earlier in the season, (see link to review at end), has topped himself with this highly original satirical adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov's theatrical novel Black Snow. It's as clever and funny an evening as you're likely to find anywhere on or off-Broadway (and for a lot more than the very affordable $12 ticket price) -- smartly directed by Ralph Buckley, wittily staged with pop-up sets by Roger Hanna . and expertly performed by a cast of fifteen actors and even more characters when you count the multiple parts of them shouldered by most of them. Just to fit them all onto the Judith Anderson Theater's very modestly sized stage is a feat. To round out the general excellence of the production there's Jason Livingston's well-focused lighting, Michele Wynne's smart costumes and composer Alexander Zhaurbin's moody Russian music.
The protagonist whose tumultuous adventures we follow is a naive writer, one Sergei Maxudov played to perfection by Christopher Duva. When we first meet him he has failed not only as a novelist but in his attempt to hang himself. Naturally this is all for the best, since a knock on the door catapults him from the pit of despair to the heady inner circle of the Moscow theatrical world.
Illogical as it seems someone wants his bulky unpublished manuscript after all but as an adaptation for the stage. And so the novelist becomes a playwright, Black Snow: the novel is ready to become Black Snow: the play. No sooner is the manuscript accepted by the Independent Theater than the newly anointed success finds himself bamboozled into a terrible contract and inundated with advice. Sergei is the perennial outsider thrown into a den of manipulative insiders -- autocrats, bureaucrats and not-so collegial colleagues. Artistic success, as he quickly discovers is fraught with artistic compromise. The Independent Theater and its artistic director are of course thinly disguised parodies of the Moscow Art Theater and the autocratic Stanislavsky and a microcosm of the macrocosm of the Stalin era during which all these fantastical events occur.
As our hapless hero wends his way through the lunatic maze of the theater world, the versatile cast members often portray several diametrically opposed madhatter roles. At the end of the yellow brick road (in this case red velour) is the maddest and most manipulative of the lot, the Wizard in this Oz being the Stanislavsky-like artistic director done to a satiric crisp by Sal Mistretta.
For anyone who's ever worked in the theater, movies, television or publishing, there is much in this comic pandora's box to tickle a few "me too" chords as well as the funny bone. I don't want to spoil some the many surprising laugh-aloud moments with too many details of Sergei's sadly hilarious loss of innocence but to give you just a taste:
Before Sergei's play is even published, a spiteful critic reviews a listing of it on a poster and a jealous friend gleefully brings it to his attention.
Sergei's dreams of a reasonable amount of rubles are quickly dashed in a scene in which he and the tight-fisted editor are locked in a battle over the contract that is bound to run counter to Sergei's interests. Yet the editor declares with a straight face "Money, all you writers care about is money!"
Sergei's creative indepenence crumbles when the imperious Director has him read the play to him, slicing and editing without listening to a word. The dicing and slicing is exacerbated by the hangers-on, like the actress who demands "the arc, where's the arc?"
One of my favorite scenes was a dream sequence in which Sergei, Moliere, Sophocles and a very fey Shakespeare discuss his play.
In the end, for all the zaniness and laughs, Black Snow is a thoughtful play about the creative process which is undoubtedly why it won a Joseph Jefferson Best Play award when it premiered in Chicago in 1993. The Gilgamesh Theatre Group is to be complimented for bringing it to New York even if only for the very short scheduled run. It would be nice if it could extend (as Never The Sinner did) but with theaters in such short supply, don't count on it. Go see it.
LINKS TO PLAYS MENTIONED:
Brutality of Fact review
Never the Sinner review