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Theater review: ‘Diary of a Madman’ at Actors Circle Theatre

March 21, 2012 |  2:22 pm

"Diary of Madman"
Maniacal laughter echoing through the opening sound montage doesn’t pose much spoiler risk, given that the name of the monologue we’re watching is “Diary of a Madman.” Still, in the classic Nikolai Gogol short story on which Ilia Volok and Eugene Lazarev’s new stage adaptation is based, the protagonist’s mental unraveling follows a distinctly accelerating progression — an arc that’s somewhat obscured when the character comes charging out of the gate in full-blown nutcase mode.

Manageable length and first-person narration have made the work a recurring choice for solo performance. This effort benefits from director Lazarev’s and star Volok’s shared Russian heritage—their original translation feels crisper and more contemporary than ubiquitous public domain versions.

It’s particularly effective in evoking the Gogol story’s vivid mix of the comic and horrific.

With demonic glint and flamboyant gestures, Volok certainly lives up to the title as Poprishchin, a mid-grade civil service nonentity. Opening with his stalker-ish obsession with his boss’ daughter, the narrator’s delusions become increasingly grandiose and his grip on reality more tenuous.

Rather than stressing period specificity, the adaptation (down to the threadbare set) frames his breakdown as a timeless response to a colorless, dehumanized existence.

But the fact that Poprishchin’s madness is obvious from the outset leaves Volok nowhere to go except the no man’s land of over-the-top, actorly clichés of madness, and a tendency to embellish lines with pregnant dramatic pauses makes the piece slower going than it needs to be. 

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-– Philip Brandes

“Diary of a Madman,” Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 31. $20. (323) 960-7770 or www.plays411.com/madman. Running time: 1 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: Ilia Volok. Credit: Rochelle Perry.

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