Wins by A Nose

The Nose and From a Madman's Diary

Adapted from short stories written by Nikolai Gogol

Directed by Christopher Duffy

At Leverett House D-entry Gogol Space

Through this weekend


THERE are two sides to the work of Nikolai Gogol, one lighthearted and delightfully absurd, the other darker, crueler and obsessive to the point of madness. Director Christopher Duff manages to display through two short pieces, The Nose and From a Madman's Diary, both sides of Gogol's talent with out losing the peculiar, manic sensibility that unites the whole of his canon.

Nose is a humorous stroll through the complexities of czarist Russian society. Kovolyov, one of Gogol's usual St. Petersburg bureaucrat protagonists, wakes up to discover that his nose is missing from his face. As he rushes through the channels of the Russian bureaucracy in vain efforts to reclaim his proboscis, the play treats the audience to delightfully unpredictable morsels of absurdism, such as the scene where the hapless Kovolyov encounters his nose, dressed in the uniform of a state councilor, praying at St. Isaac's Cathedral. "Excuse me, sir," says the nose, "but you are mistaken, for I am my own person."

Nose clearly owes a lot to the Russian folk tale tradition of the nebuival'shchina, or humorous tall tale. Duffy takes advantage of the story's fairy-tale quality and frames his adaptation around the premise of a group of adults (Arthur Fuscaldo, Lee Thomsen and Maria Troy) performing the tale to pacify a difficult little girl (Annie Gustavsen) who has locked herself in a basement room, Happily, this device manages not to cross the boundary from charm to terminal cuteness, and while you may occasionally feel like a little malchik being tucked into bed by your babushka, it's hard not to fall for this charismatic production.

The cast proves itself a collection of superb storytellers, and as each runs about playing a multiplicity of roles, their combined performance steers the audience quickly and humorously through Gogol's absurdist terrain.

Diary introduces the darker side of Gogol's oeuvre. Like Nose, it traces the daily struggles of a St. Petersburg bureaucrat. Diary's audience, however, does not get a humorous look at a silly, petty outsider but dwells within the mind of a man tortured by his own lowly position within the inflexible class lines of Russian society and accompanies him on his gradual descent into a hell of madness and self-torment.

David Silver, as the diarist narrator, with his sheared hair, unshaven face and ripped pajamas, appears a convincing lunatic. Moreover, he delivers his many long monologues with the curious self-absorption of a madman, drawing the audience into his twisted world where dogs write letters, the earth is crashing into the moon and a Russian bureaucrat can discover that he's actually the king of Spain. As he loses himself more and more in his delusions, the real pain behind his situation becomes clear, and the audience realizes that class boundaries separate him forever from the general's daughter with whom he has fallen in love. Silver's performance becomes especially moving at the conclusion, as the madman cries for his mother to return and cae for her tormented son.

The juxtaposition of these two stories as stage adaptations is a brilliant stroke of dramatic creativity, and the result is an effective representation of Gogol's strange genius. The cramped plainness of Leverett's D-entry basement (cleverly dubbed the "Gogol Space" for this production) is well-utilized in both pieces, first as a basement room heaped with junk for the adult storytellers to use as props, then as a cell in an asylum.

If you've never experienced a Gogol short story, The Nose and From a Madman's Diary prove a superb introduction to his work. Even if you are a longstanding Gogol fan, this creative production may offer some pleasant surprises.

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