Hands up, anyone, who's ever day dreamed of being King. Of course you have. And dreamed that wearing a newspaper hat will make you a General? Well, okay, maybe not everyone does that. But are you convinced that dogs can write letters? And that you can read them? Out loud? Damn, you better run for the hills before they put you on stage.
That's what happened to Poprishchin, Russian civil servant, going barking mad in Nikolai Gogol's 1835 short story, The Diary of a Madman. David Holman, Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush snatched him out of the pages and planted him on the stage. To our delight. And Richard Jay Simon furthered our delight by starring Ken Clement and Betsy Graver in his current production of Madman at his Mosaic Theatre.
Poprishchin spends his interminable days scratching at paperwork and sharpening his boss's quills and his lonely garret nights writing his diary; a litany of dreams of life far above his station. His life is lit by guttering candles and the visits of the housemaid Tuovi.
Ken Clement, with his blond Dutch boy haircut, fluttering tongue and nervous giggles reads us his mind as he slowly spirals through laughter and pain into raging dementia. His is a marvelous performance, be it dancing as the tattered caped King, a crown of quills askew, flourishing a feathered umbrella and with pride shining, or lusting after his supervisor's virginal white clad daughter, or raging in his straitjacket in a ghastly cell; how could a King be treated thusly?
Clement's excellence is matched by that of Betsy Graver as the timorous Finnish housemaid, persistantly learning Russian, feeding the almost penniless Poprishchin watery soup, worrying about him, a willing puppy in his presence. Graver also plays the ethereal boss's daughter, Sophia, and Tatiana, a fellow prisoner in the grimy cell that is Poprishchin's apogee of madness.
Matt Corey's sound adds tremendous pleasure to The Diary of a Madman. The music is a compilation of snippets from a variety of Russian composers, chiefly Glinka, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky. Matt Corey uses his own compositions at the beginning of each act, and at the end of the show. He should change his name to Tchaicoreyovsky.
There's a set change toward the end of the show and it's a marvel. A blink and the all too realistic St Petersburg garret becomes a cell that even rats would fear.
Douglas Grinn, John Hall and K. Blair Brown, designers of the set, lights and costumes are all at their excellent best and the terrific work by both actors, strongly supported by Ricard Jay Simon's direction, make this one of Mosaic's best.
See Diary of a Madman at the Mosaic Theatre through October 14. 12200 West Broward Boulevard, Plantation. 954-577-8243 http://mosaictheatre.com/