MASTER AND MARGARITA or the Devil Comes to Moscow

Adapted for the theater from Mikhail Bulgakov’s famous Russian novel by Jean-Claude van Itallie (from a translation by Sergei Kobiakoff).

Originally commissioned by Joseph Papp and the Public Theater, NYC, a French version using part of van Itallie’s text was performed at the Theatre de Mercure, Paris, directed by Andrei Serban. Master and Margarita premiered in New York City at the Theater for the New City (Crystal Field, Artistic Director) in the spring of 1993, directed by David Willinger with music by Arthur Abrams.


The large cast included Lisa Nicholas, Jonathan Teague Cook, Gary Kimble, Kolawole Ogundirand Eran Bohem.


"Jean-Claude van Itallie is a legendary figure in the downtown theater community in New York. Twenty-seven years ago, his trilogy of one-acts chronicling the cacophony of American society during the Vietnam era — America Hurrah - opened in the East Village. The production, which cost $17,000 and featured puppets designed by Robert Wilson, helped legitimize the Off-Broadway movement. It ran for two years.

   Tonight another van Itallie work, Master and Margarita, opens downtown at the Theatre for the New City, directed by David Willinger. It is a stage adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s banned 1940 novel about the devil visiting Moscow. A love story, a political satire about corruption and a religious parable, it is also the portrait of the writer as a renegade.

   Such interweaving of the personal, spiritual and political is not uncommon in Mr. Van Itallie’s own life. The 57-year-old playwright identifies himself not only as an artist, but equally as a Tibetan Buddhistt, an antinuclear activist, a teacher and a homosexual.

   "Plays need to ask a question, not provide an answer," he said during a recent telephone interview from his farm in Massachusetts. "When society is in a state of denial or repression — when we deny the existence of the spiritual, as we did through the Reagan-Bush years and as was true in the Soviet Union when Bulgakov was writing,, then we must suffer the consequences. And by spiritual, I mean ordinary goodness."..

   Mr. van Itallie said, "In the 60's language was suspect because we were being lied to by religious leaders and politicians. I’m constantly trying to refind the route of the word, to speak from the heart rather than from the head." William Harrris, New York Times, Sunday May 23, 1993.


"As one might expect, Jean-Claude van Itallie’s stage adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margaritacan keep an audience startled and amused for a couple of hours. There is enough incident in this wild work about diabolical mischief in Moscow and in history, which Bulgakov was still fussing over when he died in 1940, to make a dozen plays." D.J.R. Bruckner, New York Times, June 1, 1993.

"Like Peer Gynt’s onion, or more pertinently, like Russian dolls, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita is a novel within a novel within a novel. As transposed for the stage, quite astonishingly, by Jean-Claude van Itallie, it is now, at Theater for the New City, a play within a play within a play." Jerry Tallmer, New York Post.

"Van Itallie’s name is intimately connected with the birth of avant- garde theatre in downtown New York, and it is no wonder that he was attracted to Bulgakov’s inspired grotesqueries… [His translation] captures all the wildness, wit, and sadness of Bulgakov’s work." Rosette Lamont, Theater Week, June 23, 1993.


Margarita is beautiful, about 30. She walks from her dressing table to a bureau from which she takes the charred remains of the master's manuscript wrapped in silk and a ribbon. She goes back to the dressing table, sits, unwraps and examines the manuscript.

MARGARITA (reading): Mist. Mist from the Mediterranean smothers the city that Pilate so detests. Descending, it covers the arena, the crenelated palace, the bazaars, caravansarais, the alleyways and pools of water... Yerushalayim, the great city ... vanishes... as though it had never been.

   (She cries a little, looks in the mirror.)

Anything, anything -- just to know if he's alive.

   (She rewraps the manuscript, returns it to    the bureau drawer.)

NATASHA (Margarita's maid, attractive, coming in with tea):

Oh, Margarita Nikolayevna, at the theater yesterday they gave perfume, stockings, shoes and dresses free to everyone. Then suddenly -- right in front of the theater -- everyone was naked!

MARGARITA (laughing): Natasha, really. That's too silly. Don't believe everything you hear.

NATASHA: I myself saw a woman this morning in the delicatessen on the Arbat wearing beautiful new shoes. Then just as she was paying, her shoes vanished. She was standing there in her stocking feet.

MARGARITA: Was she really?

NATASHA: She was, she was! And last night women from the audience were running along Tverskaya in just their panties. The police made hundreds of arrests...

MARGARITA: Now I'll do a magic trick...

   (She gives new stockings to Natasha.)

NATASHA (touched): Oh Margarita Nikolaevna, thank you.

(Natasha leaves. Koroviev appears from the balcony. Margarita sees him.)

MARGARITA: How did you get in here? Who are you?

KOROVIEV: I haven't come to arrest you, Margarita Nikolaevna.

MARGARITA: How do you know my name?

KOROVIEV: I have a proposition to make to you from a distinguished foreign gentleman.

MARGARITA: A panderer! A pimp in my bedroom!


MARGARITA: Swine. Out.

KOROVIEV (wiping his brow): Whew, women in love ... He should have sent the Cat.


KOROVIEV (quoting): Mist. Mist from the Mediterranean smothers the city that Pilate so detests. Descending, it covers the arena, the crenelated palace, the bazaars, caravansarais, the alleyways and pools of water... Yerushalayim, the great city... vanishes... as though it had never been. You want to know if he's alive?

MARGARITA: You're reading my thoughts. You're from the secret police!

KOROVIEV: Oh my God, everyone in Moscow thinks they're going to be arrested. Sit down.

MARGARITA (whispering): Do you know where he is?


MARGARITA: Please -- is he alive?

KOROVIEV: Yes, alive, alive.

MARGARITA: Oh, God. And I suppose this foreigner wants to sleep with me?

KOROVIEV: Any woman in the world would want to sleep with him.

But he doesn't want you for that.

MARGARITA: If I go, I'll hear about the master?

             (Koroviev nods.)

I'll go!

KOROVIEV (relieved): In that case allow me to give you this.

   (He hands her a small gold jar.)

Rub the cream over your face and body. Then I'll call with instructions.

   (She weighs the jar in her hand.)

MARGARITA: Solid gold. I'm being bribed. I'll probably regret this.

KOROVIEV: Why didn't he send the Cat? Give it back.

MARGARITA (not giving back the jar): No, I'll do anything.

KOROVIEV (loudly): Bah!

(He steps backwards through the curtain and is gone.)

Published by Dramatists Play Service