Michael Stuhlbarg as Boris Berezovsky in Patriots, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Rupert Goold
Matthew MurphyPatriots
  • Theater, Drama
  • Recommended



3 out of 5 stars

Michael Stuhlbarg and Will Keen play Russian roulette in a play about the rise of Vladimir Putin.


Time Out says

Broadway review by Raven Snook 

"In the West you think of Russia as a cold, bleak place," says Boris Berezovsky, the late mathematician turned oligarch turned enemy of the Russian state, in the opening scene of Peter Morgan's Patriots. The same could be said for the first half of Morgan’s unsatisfying new modern-history play, which explores how Berezovsky helped bring Vladimir Putin to power—a miscalculation that leads to his personal and political ruin. The first act is jam-packed with exposition, so director Rupert Goold stages the introductory scenes as farce. But even as Berezovsky, played by an indefatigable Michael Stuhlbarg, juggles business with bullying (via phone calls with his cronies, his kid and his teenage courtesan), the action feels sluggish. The narrative hops around in time as minor characters run up and down the stairs of Miriam Buether's chilly set, and cycle in and out of an imposing door that leads to the corridors of power. 

Patriots | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy

As Morgan arranges the facts to serve his Shakespearean ambitions, there’s a lot to keep track of: bombs, betrayals, backroom deals. But it feels exhausting, not exhilarating. It’s when Berezovsky decides to play kingmaker with ex-KGBer and local government lackey Putin (Will Keen, who originated his role in London) that the drama finally kicks in. Act II opens with a hilarious tableau of Berezovsky partying in the Caribbean after Putin becomes President, but his celebration is short-lived: Putin refuses to be his puppet. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse in which both participants think they're lions. Other men in the mix—the Mother Russia of Patriots is very much a patriarchy—include Berezovsky's competitor Roman Abramovich (Luke Thallon) and the faithful and ill-fated security officer Alexander Litvinenko (Alex Hurt).

Stuhlbarg is tremendous: His Berezovsky is seductive, scary and ultimately sad. It's a physically thrilling performance. In the beginning, his body puffs up when he's threatening an associate, and he does a little jig when he gets his way. But as he loses his influence, his fortune and his homeland, he seems to shrink; his once-commanding voice grows hoarse and melancholy. Meanwhile, Keen transforms from hungry nobody to icy autocrat. His suits may change—the costumes, designed by Buether and Deborah Andrews, delineate hierarchy clearly—but his unsettling stare never does. The play's not the thing here; the players are, and Stuhlbarg and Keen are the crème de la Kremlin.

Patriots. Ethel Barrymore Theatre (Broadway). By Peter Morgan. Directed by Rupert Goold. With Michael Stuhlbarg, Will Keen, Luke Thallon, Alex Hurt. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.

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Patriots | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy


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