Soviet born actor Ilia Volok is quite personable and definitely commands the stage; his performance is heroic but it is so intense and his accent is often intrusive. Comical and sensitive portions are overshadowed by the perpetual ranting. It’s 70 minutes of an actor’s bravura performance as he plays a character mentally unravelling and the plot gets sidetracked. There’s a lot of histrionics that don’t pay off.
Director Eugene Lazarev has Mr. Volok all over the large, bare and black stage. Up on a ramp high above, on a staircase, down front and center stage. It’s all visually arresting but the production would have benefitted if Mr. Lazarev had also paced and varied Volok’s vocal delivery.
Volok portrays Poprishchin, a disaffected low-level Russian civil servant, who is driven insane by life’s disappointments and futility during the oppressive reign of Nicholas I. Costume designer Knarik Balayan has him symbolically wrapped up in all-white that suggests (and later becomes) a straight-jacket.
Poprishchin loves his boss’ daughter who is unaware of him. He listlessly completes his mundane work tasks and returns to his room. Eventually he stops going to work, stays in his room, becomes consumed with delusional fantasies that he’s the King of Spain, and ends up in an insane asylum.
Clanging bars, barking dogs, clucking chickens and variety of eerie and regal classical music are perfectly rendered by David Marling’s dynamic sound design.
Lighting designer Ken Coughlin provides a variance of brightness, dimness and bursts of red that convey an otherworldly universe. There are also strobe sequences with Volok vigorously dancing and gesticulating.
Technically accomplished, Lazarev and Volok’s adaptation is faithful to Gogol’s narrative and tone but is diminished by Volok’s misdirected performance.
Diary of a Madman (extended through February 18, 2018)
A Perfect World Productions
American Theatre of Actors
John Cullum Theatre, 314 West 54th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit http://www.volok-diaryofamadman.weebly.com
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission