The Yale Cabaret’s adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Fatal Eggs definitely has its moments, and most of them are in the first half of the show. There’s energy and amusement aplenty in the early going, as we follow the tale of Prof. Vladimir Ipatevich Persikov’s surprising discovery of what will soon be touted as a “ray of life.” As a means of accelerating embryo development that might just be the thing to speed up growth in chicken eggs after a strange outbreak kills off all the People’s Republic’s poultry, the ray is requisitioned by the State. Unfortunately the eggs ultimately treated with the method are not chicken eggs but eggs generally used for experimental purposes—ostrich, crocodile, snake—and thus Russia is soon over-run by Creatures Of Unusual Size. Persikov, who doesn’t read papers, gets denounced by the press, and the next thing you know the mobs of Moscow are out to get him. Chris Bannow plays Persikov with the earnest goofiness of a Jerry Lewis-esque “Wacky Professor” and is one of the strengths of the production, which is at its best when it’s at its wackiest. Other comic contributions come from support by Mamoudou Athie, great at funny voices, and Ceci Fernandez as a brazenly unlettered reporter straight out of vaudeville, with the plaid suit to prove it. Indeed, what makes the early going so much fun is the fast-paced slapstick of it all—including fun with a spinning door and a dim-witted assistant (Dan O’Brien)—and voices and mannerisms that have radio-skit clarity (I kept being reminded of the radio-drama take-offs by recording comedy troupe The Firesign Theater). Director Dustin Wills keeps it bouncing and the wheelable stage props help to keep things moving. The Narrator (Ilya Khodosh) adds something of a radio announcer’s amused detachment, and we seem launched toward a laughable version of ‘20s Sci-Fi that Orson Welles and his Mercury Players might appreciate.
And though there are some diversions in the later stages—such as two trembling babushkas dreading the outcome of the chicken outbreak, and a monstrously surly chicken on a leash, to say nothing of a Flying Snake Puppet of Death (Dustin Wills, puppets)—the play, adapted by Khodosh and Wills from Bulgakov’s short story, hits a dead patch when the frenetic stagework pauses to let the plot catch up. The talky parts—as when Athie, on behalf of the People’s Republic, commandeers the Ray, or when Pyotr Stepanovich Ivanov (Sophie von Haselberg) and Persikov babble bio-jargon at each other—seem to long for interruption, and the figures of fun (O’Brien, Fernandez, Michelle McGregor—with one helluva wail) eventually seem to have already done their best bits.
The Scenic Design (Kate Noll) is quite a spectacle—particularly effective are the backdrops of Russia, complete with suspended sickle moon—and the staging area is surrounded by fascinating clutter. Solomon Weisbard cooks up some interesting projections—combining your basic Petrie dish swarm with Eisensteinian montage; Meredith Reis’ lighting makes ingenious use of onstage lamps and unobtrusive spots to focus attention where required—and the flashlights from the outdoors mob are a nice touch. Costumes, by Nikki Delhomme, provide lots of visual interest and complement the comic turns—as in the combined voice and costume of Athie’s Fat man, and in the reporter’s aforementioned duds.
All combined it’s a fun evening that, for me, felt like the Cab doing the kind of thing it does best: sending-up familiar forms of theatricality while contributing its own bits of inspired irreverence. We should be happy to egg them on.
Two more shows: Saturday, 9/22, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
The Fatal Eggs by Mikhail Bulgakov Adapted by Dustin Wills and Ilya Khodosh Directed by Dustin Wills
The Yale Cabaret 45th Anniversary Season 217 Park Street 203.432.1566