Classic Piece Given Modern Twist at Quintessence

by Walter Bender
Daniel Fredrick stars in Quintessence Theatre Group's DIARY OF A MADMAN. (Photo credit: Shawn May)

Daniel Fredrick stars in Quintessence Theatre Group’s DIARY OF A MADMAN. (Photo credit: Shawn May)

Quintessence Theatre Group in Mt. Airy continues bringing classic theatre to the area with the adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story, DIARY OF A MADMAN. This adaptation, by David Holman, Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush is a fairly faithful retelling of the story of Mr. Poprishchin, whose disenchantment with his lodgings, his job, his employers, and virtually anything else is disrupted by first his obsession with his boss’ daughter, then his suspicion that dogs can talk, and finally his belief that he is the successor to the throne of Spain. Poprishchin chronicles these events in his diary, given a modern twist by the use of a computer, wireless Internet connection and webcam in a form of video blog, which allows the audience (and presumably a cyber-audience) to see both the live action and the video (cleverly projected onto the back wall) so Poprishchin’s facial expressions are magnified.

Poprishchin is expertly portrayed by Daniel Fredrick, a veteran of the Quintessence stage. His over-the-top portrayal of this “everyman” with real delusions of grandeur is delightful. From his initial snobbish attitude toward his lodgings and position at the office, to his growing belief in his own self-importance, to the eventual breakdown, Frederick delights with exaggerated facial expressions, overtly dramatic poses and a complete disregard for his modesty.

Another Quintessence veteran, Rachel Brodeur, is a very busy young woman, playing Touvi the Finnish servant at Poprishchin’s lodgings, Sophia the daughter of the Director at Poprishchin’s employment, and Tatiana, an inmate at Poprishchin’s final destination, the asylum. She does all three great justice, her innocence and devotion to Poprishchin as Touvi disarmingly sweet. Her Sophia is haughty, privileged and sheltered. Finally, Tatiana (while saying not a word) adds volumes to the sense of dread and horror in the asylum.

Rounding out this fine cast is Jamison Foreman. He comes into the space about 15 minutes prior to the beginning and plays his original “overture” on the piano, setting the stage for what is to come. During the rest of the evening, his underscore during significant events adds to the mood of the piece, and he has a couple amusing moments of interplay with the characters on stage.

The staging of this play is very well done. The set is minimal, a square elevated stage that is raked at “insane” angles. The back wall also is irregularly cut, a subtle enhancement of the theme of the piece. Lighting is primarily done initially by light streaming in through the windows (cleverly done with gobos) then later by the addition of one bare bulb thoughtfully provided by the loyal Touvi. As Poprishchin decends further into madness, the set mirrors his fractured mind, rotating from scene to scene until finally shattering.

Quintessence Theatre Group is in its third season of bringing progressive classical theatre to the Philadelphia region. They continue to provide solid work, and audiences are beginning to find this treasure. With DIARY OF A MADMAN this unique organization has another gem.

Adaptation of the short story by Nicolai Gogol,
adapted by David Holman
with Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush
February 13-March 10, 2013
Quintessence Theatre Group
The Sedgwick Theater
7137 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19119

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