VOICE March 27, 1990

Dog Daze
By Erika Munk
Heart of a Dog
A play by Deloss Brown,
adapted from the novella by
Mikhail Bulgakov.
CSC Repertory
136 East 13th Street

Anna Akhmatova wrote of Bulgakov, "You who even in the final hours showed marvelous disdain"; he was an admirable man and endlessly inventive writer. As for Deloss Brown, who wrote CSC's adaptation of Bulgakov's 1925 novella, he declares himself in the first line of his program bio: "A life of crime." This life's work, so far, has been stolen (his word) from Euripides, Molière, Fielding, Grimm, and Steele. The man has an eye for value.
     Pooch is an ordinary homeless mutt down on his luck, who's just had boiling water thrown at him by, the cook at the Normal Diet Cafeteria for employees of the People's Central Economic Soviet. "Both feet on the ground? I can double that . . . " Preobrazhensky, a monkey-gland doctor to the impotent Soviet elite, wins him with "horselips and garlic" sausage and takes him home.
     Preobrazhenskv grafts onto Pooch a human pituitary and testes, taken from the corpse of an alcoholic balalaika-playing thief. Behold, Poochkov! Petulant about criticism--"I went to the school of hard knocks, how do you expect me to get everything right?"--he laps his water and nips at the fleas in his armpit. Doggy self-pity and toadying have been transmuted into a loathsome, whining coarseness. The household goes out of whack. Disasters multiply. Poochkov bites Preobrazhensky's patients, rips plumbing out of the wall, gets himself appointed director of the "purge section" for all of Moscow's ... cats, tries to rape the maid, denounces Preobrazhensky as a spy for the pope. Finally, a desperate second operation devolves him back to canine existence. The revolution, of course, is not so easily reversed.
     Robert Lanchester has directed this savage satire as a riotous farce. Bill Raymond is inspired as our Moscow Frankenstein, his round face ceaselessly mobile in wit and disdain, and the hilarious awfulness of Jace Alexander's Poochkov is a perpetual amazement: when you think there's nothing crass left to do, he blows saliva bubbles for a long time. When Preobrazhensky takes Pooch home, we hear Peter's theme from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf--the Internationale kicks in at just the right moments ("sound design" by the gifted Daniel Schreir). Political jokes fly by. Pooch talks about "running dogs of imperialism," Preobrazhensky says, "I've seen Lenin's omelet and believe me I want my eggs back." And he delivers the antijoke, too--"You aren't creating a dream state, you're creating a nightmare." All this is wonderfully enjoyable, especially when the production goes completely over the top and around the bend. But after intermission, the style seemed to sit a little uncomfortably with the substance. A look at the original novella makes clear why. Brown exaggerates: if Bulgakov has a drunk scene with one bottle of booze, he makes it half a dozen. Brown invents. Whole scenes are new, and not one of the quotations in this review can be found in Bulgakov. This is, mostly, unimportant, but at crucial moments Brown is too heavy-handed. That "dream state" comment's a dull thud which must have Bulgakov twirling in his grave. Preobrazhensky says two crucial things: "The whole horror, you see, is that his heart is no longer a dog's heart, but a human one," and, "that's what happens ... when the investigator, instead of feeling his way and moving parallel to nature, forces that question and tries to raise the curtain." Perhaps Bulgakov's satire couldn't be turned into farce without forcing the question. As farce, however--unlike Poochkov--it's a fine mutant.

©The Village Voice 1990

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