Presented by Arlekin Players Theatre
Based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov
Original stage composition based on the novel written by Igor Golyak and Zhenya Brodskaya
English translation by Yana Minchenko
Composed by Jakov Jakoulov
Directed by Igor Golyak
Choreographed by Victor Plotnikov
Reviewed by Bishop C. Knight
(Emerson College) A Dead Man’s Diary was a drama performed in Russian, and patrons could request an earplug device that provided English voiceover during the production. The play begins with our main character Sergei Maksudov writing a novel that is inspired by a dream of his native city and, upon completing this work, Maksudov shares his manuscript with various writers and critics. One of his readers prompts Maksudov to adapt the book to a play, and thus commences Maksudov’s meanderings through the world of theatre ‒ a sphere where he is scorned by the director of the Moscow Art Theater, Stanislavsky. At its core, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Theatrical Novel examines a writer’s sacred love for theatre.
Inside the Paramount Theatre’s black box, patrons’ seats surrounded another and smaller black box structure, into which we gazed at the private moments of Maksudov’s dark and disturbing fate. Upon taking places, each seat was in front of a 5×5” peephole, through which we had very narrow glimpses of women and men sitting and walking around a very dim bedroom space. There was a string of artisanal light bulbs that remained unlit, despite the protest and plea of my strained and squinting eyes. Then the show began with Maksudov sharing how he had been “peering into a little box” and “what a fascinating game to watch these people.” So the play’s prelude of voyeurism was an introduction to Maksudov’s mindset, and I really enjoyed the audience experience the technical crew team set up with this prologue.
Following our prologue, Maksudov set the time by stating “Scene One: Evening, the lamp is on.” In true literary fashion, during this scene Maksudov would share his process of narration with patrons, naming for us what we watched. A woman sang a short mezzo-soprano snippet from Faust when Maksudov commented, “I write down she’s singing.” While this segment could have become pedantic, actor David Garmarnik infused the character of Maksudov with enthusiasm as he zealously zipped about the stage.
A note about the show’s sound, which was designed by Andrey Kuzmin: Wonderful with music interludes impeccably placed throughout the production. Occasionally a chorus of about fifteen actors would sing, bestowing vocals supported by instrumental background music, and the quick musical transitions greatly contributed to the play’s schizophrenic moodiness. At once the heaviness of organ music, but hurriedly switched to hoppy harpsichord twanging, while the chorus sang that Maksudov’s “character is underdeveloped and overdeveloped,” the audience was thrust into the madness of a writer.
This was a play for those who appreciate Russian theatre and dark comedy. (At one point, Maksudov briefly rambled about the death of this cat, and it was actually quite funny.) While A Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel is no longer on stage, I’d strongly suggest experiencing another production by the Arlekin Players, who are on a mission to enrich audiences by adapting Russian literature in a playful way.