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Diary of a Madman

A faithful solo theatrical adaptation of Gogol’s classic short story about a low-level civil servant’s mental decline in the oppressive Russia in 1835.

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Ilia Volok in Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” (Photo credit: courtesy of JMAE)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]Cool sound effects and inventive direction cannot compensate for the overwrought performance in this wearying solo play, Diary of a Madman, that is based on Nikolai Gogol’s 1835 short story.

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.

Ilia Volok in Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” (Photo credit: courtesy of JMAE)

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.

Ilia Volok in Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” (Photo credit: courtesy of JMAE)

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

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

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