Peter Dobbins’ production of the Collaborators creates an immediate relationship to space at the Grand Hall in Manhattan.
The creative architecture in St. Mary’s Church is dynamic: the walls of the intimate space are angular and puzzle-like, round columns jut out of the walls supporting intricate brick masonry. The church provides theatre goers with a sense of history and provides a visual experience like no other; the angularity of the church’s walls hone in on the compact tapestry set positioned before the audience. John Hodge’s play is spoofy, political, historical and humorous all at the same time.
The play depicts an inventive encounter between playwright Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Stalin. The show opens with the endearing Brian J. Carter (Mikhail Bulgakov) who is woken up from a nightmarish lamp attack by Joseph Stalin. Stalin is seen horrifically circling around a compact 1938 bedroom set with a lamp in his upstage hand as a weapon to take down Mikhail, and the two partake in a hilarious chase sequence of cat and mouse. In fear of being wacked over the head, Carter frightfully crouches by his bedside with comedic despair and the lights abruptly flick off for an impactful opening blackout. John Hodge’s work is the clear definition of homedy (when horror suitably meets comedy).
High accolades go to actor Erin Biernard (Yelena, the wife of Mikhail Bulgakov), whose presence has selfless, intriguing energy. Her performance is forever imprinted in my mind. Edward Prostak (Vasilly) makes his mark with calm yet demanding grace.
Also noteable is Mikhail’s flashback sequence to a production of one of his first great plays. Actors and actresses (from Dobin’s production) represented true commedia dell’ arte theatre artists from Mikhail’s play. The actor’s emerged stage left into a corner playing space separate from the main set (the audience was jutted into this play sequence, up close to the live action of four actors circling around an eloquently speaking, curly-white wigged man). I appreciated Courtney Irizarry’s (Costume Designer) attention to detail; the actor’s emerged with a variety of commedia dell’arte face masks that included the pulcinella in addition to the traditional ride and piangi (happy versus sad drama masks) face masks.
The Collaborators is thoughtful and imaginative. You won’t regret seeing it.