VILNIUS - Stage adaptations of books are notoriously hard to pull off, especially when the book in question happens to be Mikhail's Bulgakov's cult classic, "The Master and Margarita."
It's a sweeping critique of the Russian political and cultural system, allegorically told through the story of the devil's quest to teach atheist Muscovites a searing lesson of heaven and hell.
A "chance" meeting in a park between the devil, a famous literary editor and a poet sets things off with a discussion about the existence of Jesus. From there on in, Bulgakov's much-loved story disintegrates into sheer chaos.
The task of bringing the novel to the stage was taken on by the renowned Lithuanian director Oskaras Korsunovas. It first premiered in 2000 and has since made various appearances at home and abroad to widespread acclaim.
Korsunovas's previous work includes such plays as "Shopping and Fucking" and a highly innovative version of "A Midnight Summer's Dream." His first play as a director was back in 1990.
Korsunova said that the project of bringing the book to the stage was a 10-year long process that greatly helped him develop as a director. He had to find the best way of transferring the structure and essence of the novel to the limits of the stage.
"The most important thing is to open up the book by theatrical means," he said of his troupe's performance,
Korsunovas, who is also director of the aptly dubbed OK Theater, said that the book contains its own magic: "The most important idea of the novel is that everything repeats itself and happens at the same time: there will be forever censors, whether they're named Pharisees or literary unions."
The focus of the story is Woland, the charming intellectual who turns the world upside down. "The Master and Margarita" is hugely popular in the Baltics, perhaps because of its wry subversion of the Soviet ideal. In real life, Bulgakov was dealt the ironic fate of enjoying Stalin's personal protection but being left unpublished because his writing was thought to be against the state. It was only in 1966 that a heavily censored version of his seminal work was allowed to be published
Full of dreamlike sequences which are typical of his plays, Korsunova's wonderfully inventive adaptation reminds one of his pizza-slinging "Romeo and Juliette" or hauntingly beautiful "Oedipus Rex."
From the melodic music score to the use of shadow theater and video projection, "The Master and Margarita" impressively embodies all that is best and most vibrant about Lithuanian theater.
The show is in Lithuanian with a simultaneous English translation, aided by the use of earphones. There are still tickets for the Vilnius performance on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24 at the National Drama Theater. Failing that, the play will be in Kaunas on Feb. 26 and in Klaipeda on Feb. 29. This is definitely an opportunity not to pass up.
"The Master and the Magarita"
The National Drama Theater
4 Gedimino, Vilnius
Tel: (+370) 52610015
Tickets 15 litas (4.3 euros) - 40 litas