Considered the father of modern Russian realism and satire, Nikolai Gogol was wonderfully gifted in the comedy of the absurd. His stories often satirized the Russian Empire’s bureaucracy and corruption and now three of his works – Diary of a Madman, The Overcoat and The Nose – will be brought to life in vivid fashion by Rogue Artists Ensemble at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. This unique event is simply known as The Gogol Project. Sean Cawelti and Ego Plum – two of the creative forces behind The Gogol Project – took time to speak to Working Author about the production.
Sean Cawelti is the artistic director for Rogue Artists Ensemble and the director for The Gogol Project. He’s been a puppeteer since he was a child and, according to him, these early experiences forever changed the world. “I always – more or less – saw things in the context of a puppet show. I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of objects in the world having inherent characteristics similar to humans, like a life and an energy.” From that point, it seemed that theater was in his blood. His early high school directorial experiences led to directing college theater as well as instructing classes in puppetry at NYU. Having experienced Cawelti’s unique directing style and use of masks firsthand when he was much younger, it’ll be interesting to see what he does with the material of The Gogol Project where a nose has escaped a face, dogs talk and chairs dance.
Complementing the absurd visuals is the divinely mad music. Ego Plum is an indie musician and composer whose credits include Making Fiends on Nicktoons Network. Composing music since his teens, Plum was heavily influenced by the eclectic sounds of such works as The Forbidden Zone and Pee-wee’s Playhouse, of all things. When asked how he would characterize his music, Plum replies, “That’s a tough question. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”
Sean Cawelti offers his insight to answer the question. “[Plum] has a lot of musical voices. Yet everything is always distinctly [his]. It’s a combination of all these kinds of styles put through [his] filter.” After listening to a few snippets of Plum’s work that will be featured in The Gogol Project, it’s easy to understand why he’s the perfect composer for the project. The music is driving, at times bombastic, other times carnivalesque, but always fun and ironic. One piece is made up entirely of clock sounds. Plum’s music is delightfully absurd and it just fits.
“One of the things I try to push forward with music is stepping out of my own personal comfort zones and trying to find things I haven’t done,” Plum adds. “One of the main reasons I was attracted to The Gogol Project is because I’ve never done theater. I have no idea what I’m doing. I honestly don’t, but that’s exactly why I feel at home with this project.”
The Gogol Project was adapted by Kitty Felde, an award-winning public radio reporter and playwright. According to Cawelti, “[Nikolai Gogol] is said to have been the first mainstream absurdist writer, but he would call himself a ‘realist’ because he was writing in his mind what was actually happening in Russia at the time. He was probably crazy too. He burned half his works at the end of his life and starved himself to death.” Originally, The Gogol Project was called Three Tales of Good and Evil and was going to be about the Bush administration through the lens of Gogol’s oppressed Russia. Since then, the project has gone through a number of incarnations with Felde working with Cawelti for over a year. “It’s really been a delight working with her.”
The development cycle for The Gogol Project has been long, but it appears that all of the hard work is paying off. Working Author was invited to watch a brief portion of a rehearsal and if the final production is anything close to what was performed this writer can safely say that you’re in for a unique and exciting time. Look for Working Author’s review of The Gogol Project soon.
Gogol Project runs Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm; and Sundays at 3 pm, September 25 through November 1. Tickets to the Opening Night Gala on Friday, September 25 are $50.00 and include a pre-show reception at 6:30 pm with live music from Gogol Project composer Ego Plum and Friends, gallery, food, drinks and more. Tickets to all other performances are $25.00 general admission and $18.00 for students and seniors with valid ID. There will be two Pay-What-You-Can matinees at 3 pm on Saturday, October 10 and Saturday, October 31. The Bootleg Theater is located at 2220 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles. For reservations and information, call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.rogueartists.org.