Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Not a review of The Diary of a Madman at BAM

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What can I say? One of the best theater shows I've ever seen. Every aspect of theater, text, staging, lighting, acting, music came together to put Gogol's Diary of a Madman in front of an audience.

A perfect marriage of physical theater and verbal expression.

The show was maybe so succesful because it wasn't staging a play written by a playwright, as in writer sits at table and writes in the usual format:

"Mad woman (recoiling in corner)
Aaaaaah.... Aaaaaaaaaah.

Mad man
I don't know why they shaved my head, I told them not to. They have such strange customs in this country.

Mad woman
Aaaaaaaaaaaaah...  Aaaah..."

For this play, it would have to be a different format:
"A woman, her hair shaven off, in tatters, rolls on the floor. She utters screams of absolute pain that wrench the soul. Her face is distorted by fear. Meanwhile the madman tries to foster his chimera, holding on to language and a few scraps of clothes."

In this Gogol text, a clerk has aspirations to climb up the society ladder. There's a ladder on stage, but only the maid climbs it, because it's a real ladder that could lead possibly to real happiness, not the chimera the clerk is after. In Russian 19th century, society is so mineralized that there is no going up the ladder, no going anywhere but fitting into the system. Bowing to the individuals higher on the ladder and ill treating individuals lower on the ladder.

The Finnish maid makes the case for humanity, for warmth and tenderness and spontaneity. And what a case the young actor Yael Stone makes. The clerk doesn't even see her. His only hope of breaking from his lonely fate, she's constantly there, at arm's length, for him to grab salvation, but he can't, he won't.

The structure of the play is brilliant, with scenes ending abruptly with lights dimmed, dialogue stopped in midsentence. The first part all fun and comedy. The second part quickly turns to tragedy, as the clerk having taken his chimera of social ascension for reality can only gyrate down into madness. The tragic pay off would work better if there was more of an emotional connection with the main character. While his representation is brilliant, he doesn't quite come across as a complete human being. He's more of an abstract commentary on society.

Geoffrey Rush and Yael Stone
The play feels contemporary, with its theme, its humor. At the same time, it completely respects the substance of Gogol's text. While everyone in Gogol's time aspires to get closer to the Czar, our society is obsessed with celebrity. 

Music based on Mussorgsky was composed for the play: a violin, a clarinet, and various percussive instruments. The musical episodes dialogue with the madman, interrupt him, underscore his monologues to great effect.

Max and Moritz
The costumes and make up and wigs fit the characters to perfection. His a tragic clown, with a reference to Max & Moritz, 19th century comic book characters.

I've only seen the total control of  physical expression Rush exhibits in Asian performers who spend 12 hrs a day practicing. Or 15. His limbs flow with suppleness, his hands express every feeling he needs to convey. Mercury.

It makes me wonder what kind of theater they have in Australia. While many good actors have come from Australia, wasn't aware of a vibrant theater culture.

Did I say Geoffrey Rush is simply fantastic in the role?

Not a review. If you are interested in finding out why I don't write reviews, go to this entry:

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter

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