January 18, 2004





Troupe shines as Gogol's 'Madman'


Mad, bad and dangerous only to himself, the protagonist of Nikolai Gogol's "Diary of a Madman" is both instantly recognizable and disturbingly alien. A civil servant apparently driven crazy by a toxic mix of drudgery, solitude and class envy, he raves in an alternately comic and nihilistic stream of consciousness about his workplace, his landlady, his random lusts and ambitions. He starts out fairly rational, then cycles through understandable bitterness to the outright insanity of believing he is in fact Ferdinand the Eighth, King of Spain.


Almost buried in this seemingly arbitrary rant is a finely honed and witty piece of writing--an aria of matter-of-fact absurdity that predates the modernist experimentalists who added an "ism" to "absurd" by roughly a century (Gogol wrote it in 1829 and had it published it five years later).


In director Don Eitner's stage adaptation, in circulation since the mid-1960s and now in a new Odyssey Theatre revival, our antihero (played with admirable, well-worn conviction by Tom Troupe) tromps about in his one-room flat in a series of sharp, elliptical scenes that descend pretty quickly from amusing kvetching to outright lunacy. Troupe is dashingly loopy yet never pandering, in a fourth wall-breaking performance that easily justifies his strong rep as a seasoned, ready-for-anything man of the theatre.


It must be said, though, that Dale Barnhart's music and sound design is disconcertingly subpar. Danny Truxaw's set is convincingly lived-in and has some diverting tricks up its sleeve. But the main reason to read this "Diary" is to observe Troupe etch a case study of an obsessive-compulsive imagination gone seriously astray. A mere actor's showcase? Perhaps. But an actor of Troupe's caliber puts the "show" in showcase.

--Rob Kendt


"The Diary of a Madman," the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays 7 p.m. (Sundays, Feb. 1 & 5 and Mar. 7, 3 p.m. No performances Jan. 14-16.) Ends Mar. 7. $20.50-22.50. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.