Final Draft Review: Diary of a Madman

Comment your final draft reviews of Diary of a Madman here.

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  1. REVIEW: “DIARY OF A MADMAN”
    Adapted and directed by Kati Vecsey
    Bates College at KCACTF Region 1 Festival
    February 1, 2018

    By Jennifer Dorn

    Blue light from eighteen computer screens cuts through the darkness as a young man mechanically clatters his fingers across a keyboard.

    On Thursday, February 1, Bates College presented “Diary of a Madman” at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 1 Festival. The play is a one-man-show based on Nikolai Gogol’s 1835 short story of the same name, modernized and adapted for the stage by director Kati Vecsey. Nathaniel Stephenson stars as the everyman digital diarist, spinning his daily narrative of perceptions and misperceptions across the world wide web.

    As the lonely and mildly unstable clerk for the president of an unspecified megacorporation, Mr. Stephenson’s Everyman inflates his significance, eavesdrops on emailing dogs, and pines for his boss’ beautiful daughter. When forced to confront his invisibility and isolation, he unravels into madness, going offline and donning a crown of phone cords and Ethernet cables, declaring himself King Ferdinand VIII of Spain.

    Michael Reidy’s visual design peppered photographs, videos, and Google images echoing Everyman’s thoughts and recollections across the wall of computer screens, accompanied by sound effects and original compositions by Bill Matthews. Although, whether deliberate or not, the sound and video were sometimes annoyingly unsynchronized, they supported Ms. Vecsey’s adaptation for the technological world of extreme connectivity accompanied by equally extreme isolation.

    But as is the blessing and curse of one-man shows, the onus of the play’s success falls on the shoulders of its actor. Fortunately, Mr. Stephenson more than rose to the task, quickly winning over the audience with an endearing awkwardness and quirky sense of humor that allowed us to love him for his vulnerability and resent the cold and ruthless corporate world that ultimately destroys him.

    “Why am I only this?” Everyman asks. Clinging to the promise that he can aspire to anything, he fails to cope with the global reality of increasing socioeconomic stratification accompanied by decreasing mobility. At once too sane and too delusional to confront this brutal truth, he asks the unanswerable and loses his faltering grip. The result is deeply moving, yet entertaining as hell.

  2. Walking into the evening production of Bates College’s production “Diary of a Madman”, the space was filled with an eerie compilation of synthetic sounds and dog barks, and, yes, it was as weird as it sounds. This adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story, interpreted by Katalin Vecsey, showcases the character “Everyman” (Nathaniel Stephenson), and his descent into madness. Nathaniel, the only actor in the production, was placed on stage for the entirety of house opening. He sat on his simulated computer(s), and typed for a solid half hour.

    Once the lights went down and the show finally began, we were greeted by several blinding computer monitors that served at scene transitions throughout the piece. Most of the images displayed were either stock photos, video recordings, or actual pictures. These were meant to either portray other characters of the show or display events going on in the world outside of the piece. As for sound design (Bill Matthews), there were many cases where the audience couldn’t figure out if the audio recordings were intentionally behind the video on the screens, or if it was a technical error. The volume of a lot of the music had a similar issue of being just a little too loud, leaving us wondering if that was intentional or not as well. That being said, the sheer amount of work that went into finding/creating the footage, compiling the files, and setting up the displays (Paseltiner & Reidy) , cannot be discredited by such minor issues. The technical component of the show was extraordinary in the sense that it was a concept unique to this piece in general. The technology was a character in itself, and it was quite impressive.

    Overall, Nathaniel Stephenson should be proud of this performance. What he was able to accomplish in this piece was nothing less than exceptional, especially when taking into consideration the sheer memorization of the piece and his convincing portrayal of a man in mental/emotional decline. As for the technical aspects of the piece, the minimalist set (Reidy) was very well done. The projections, while some were questionable choices, had flawless transitions and flowed very well with the piece. And the minimalist costuming (Carol Farrell) did a great job of describing who the character of “everyman” was trying to be. That being said, the show fell short when it came to substance/themes/message. The piece seemed to have some sort of underlying social commentary on mental illness and the treatment of mentally ill people, but there wasn’t any sort of discernible plot other than this guy’s in love with this girl but she’s marrying someone else and that triggers a spiral into some bizarre mental breakdown. But where the story lacked, the cast and crew’s effort to make the piece visually pleasing, made all the difference.

  3. “Diary of a Madman” Review- revised draft
    By Emily Brown

    One man made for one entertaining show. The Bates College production of “Diary of a Madman” was very good. The actor, Nathaniel Stephenson, was able to convey everything from meticulous office clerk to a psychotic broken shadow of a man. The general consensus of the evening audience at Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival was that everything about the show was entertaining and commendable, except the scenario. The plot was ok, but most people were bored by the simple concept and predictable narrative.
    “Diary of a Madman” is an adaptation of a story by Nikolai Gogol (adapted and directed by Kati Vecsey). It chronicles, through a series of journal entries, the way a man goes insane from his mundane life, declares himself the king of Spain, and is thrown into a mental hospital, a broken shell of the man he once was. The adaptation was did a good job of updating the language and technologies, except at the end. Many people were confused where Stephenson’s character was in the final few scenes; by context clues it was most likely a mental hospital. However, it was much more like the mental health facilities of Gogol’s time than the actual helping facilities of today.
    When the audience entered the theater Stephenson was sitting at his keyboard typing monotonously. Accompanying this repetitive series of keystrokes was the repeating soundtrack, which was not really music, but rather a series of digital tones and sound effects that were little clues and easter eggs for the show. Every sound byte from the preshow was used in the performance itself.
    One thing that seemed to be an early issue was the sightlines from the sides of the house. This show was clearly meant for a proscenium stage, so putting it in three-quarter round made for some issues for some people. This is an unfortunate consequence of bringing a show to KCACTF, but it did make for a rather frustrating series of events leading up to the show starting.
    The show was predominantly a technical masterpiece, however there were some little things that could have been better. These issues may have been due to this being a new space for the production, but they were mistakes all the same. The sound levels were all a little loud, especially when compared to the live on stage actor, who did not have a microphone. There was also a sequence where the actor on the monitor (Michael Somkuti) did not sync up with the accompanying voice over, which was frustrating for many in the audience. If this was unintentional, then it needed to be fixed. If, on the other hand, this was an international lack of synchronization, then it needed to be more obvious that it was not meant to be synchronized.
    The set was very simple, two walls with nine computer monitors each. The stage left unit had a keyboard and desk chair, where the stage right unit had a black bench.
    While some may have found the plot predictable, the general opinion was that Stephenson really made the descent into madness seem not only real, but almost logical. One thing lead to another, there was no red hearing to later lead to nothing. Everything tied up in the end, hearing the dogs talk lead to emails which lead to knowledge of a powerful rival suitor. This knowledge led to the eventual psychotic break that turned Stephenson from an average office clerk to the King of Spain.
    The design for the monitors and everything that went on them was really distinct and perfectly captured each scene. The set (designed by Michael Reidy) was almost a character unto itself. When words came on a screen in red, it was really suspenseful. When Stephenson’s line “the queen of England would not allow a female monarch” was highlighted with pictures of the queen appearing on screen, the audience laughed.
    Praise must be given to Carol Farrell’s costume design. The way the costume evolved throughout the show (especially the wire crown and rain coat cape) was a crowd pleaser. Also, when Stephenson tied his shirt around his head to show that it had been shaved, that was a clever solution to the obvious change that had to happen on stage (from “toilet brush” hair to a shaved head). The obvious choice may have been to use wigs, but the use of things already on stage made for a much more entertaining transition.
    Overall the two words that were most frequently used to describe the show were “wow” and “incredible”, and that really sums up parts of the show. While Gogol’s plot may not have been as entertaining as some would have wished, Stephenson’s performance really captured and impressed audience members.

  4. Diary of a madman, a social commentary of mental illness in society was performed at the annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) yesterday at 1:30 and 7:30pm. The one-man show adapted from a Nikolai Gogol short story, was put on by Bates Theatre and Dance and performed by Nathaniel Stephenson.
    The show followed Stephenson’s character, Everymans, slow descent into madness after a series of unfortunate incidents occur in his life. When the show opens, he can be seen sitting at a computer typing up his daily diary as he details the events of his day. As the show progresses and the character reveals more details of his affairs through his diary, the audience sees the decline of his mental health. Because of his wavering sanity he gets thrown into a mental asylum at the end of the play where everything crumbles down around him.
    Diary of a madman deals with very serious topics regarding mental health and the treatment of those afflicted with mental health issues in society. This performance did a decent job dealing with those difficult topics. Stephenson’s portrayal of this plummeting mental state could have been greatly improved. The actor kept a similar composure, tone, and volume for the first 45 minutes of the play even though Everyman is getting worse and worse throughout every different scene. I was hoping to see that decline in Stephenson’s acting that was portrayed more through the words being spoken. Stephenson had an interesting interpretation of the character of everyman and portrayed him in a way that reminds people of Jim Parsons, Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. He was cold, methodical, and obsessive, which in some parts plays true to the character of Everyman but fell short in other situations. Stephenson failed to bring a human quality to a character that everyone was supposed to be able to relate to. The audience found themselves laughing at his pain rather than sympathizing with it. During the show, the characters Chief of staff manipulates him and he reveals the crushing news that the girl he loves thinks of him as nothing more than a freak. This would have been a wonderful opportunity for more emotion and variety and a less robotically rehearsed monologue.
    This being said, Diary of a madman is a one man show and Stephenson was in front of an audience for a few minutes short of an hour and never wavered his energy and commitment to the role. From the moment, the audience walked into the room Stephenson was seated on stage typing away in character. There were no line drops, or flubs that were apparent to the audience, if anything went wrong during the show it went by unnoticed by anyone which is impressive when considering it was one actor talking by himself for an hour.
    Technically, the show was very simple yet intriguing and engaging. The set consisted of 18 computer monitors suspended on a metal rigging, an office chair and a keyboard for Everyman to type up his diaries. The computer screens had various images and videos projected on them throughout the show which was a bit distracting and pulled away from Stephenson’s performance. There were so many moving and engaging things going on right behind his head that it was hard to keep your attention on the actor. However, the visual elements of the play were something not seen in many shows was reminiscent of a very Curious incident of the dog in the night-time. It was refreshing to see a show that embraced a modernized view of an old show and pulled it off very well technically.
    Overall Diary of a Madman needed more workshopping to be considered a solid professional level piece. The show had great intentions and started the process of digging deep into the topics of mental illness which are hard subjects to tackle. At the very least it made the audience leave questioning many deep and powerful issues and that is something not a lot of shows can say.

  5. When exiting the VPAC Studio theatre those who had seen Bates Theatre Program’s, “Diary of a Madman”, seemed relatively confused and unmoved by the production they had just seen. I overheard many state an opinion that I too unfortunately shared. I had been impressed by the commitment to the role of Everyman performed by Nathaiel Stephenson and intrigued by the lure of certain technical elements of the show. However, I felt that something was incomplete or unfinished and I struggled to understand what the audience was meant to take away from the piece.

    Currently, I see a show that is memorable due to dark humour and an extremely committed young actor who goes to great lengths to convey Everyman to the audience and keep them engaged. The personality and progression of character development Stephenson gave Everyman was excellent. Seeing his slow decent into madness was one of the highlights of the show. However, technically speaking I saw lots of intriguing ideas fall flat. I could see where the designers where trying to go and wanted to go along with them but, I couldn’t force myself to not see the flaws.

    The sound design of Bill Mattews was clever and well-constructed. However, it was often too loud, overpowering Stephenson’s monologues. This continued throughout the performance and made it very clear when the music cut out completely instead of fading to silence. The videos produced were also a bit off putting. It wasn’t quality or the idea that bothered me; it was the delivery. Throughout much of the show Everyman reflects on his day and recites the things people have said to him. While doing this, a video and audio recording of a prerecorded actor is played on the screens behind him, as part of Michael Reidy’s visual Concept and Set Design. I thought conceptually this was an amazing idea however, it was very distracting that Stephenson and the recording were not in sync, meaning Stephenson would be ahead or fall behind. Whether this was deliberate or not I am not sure.

    The making of Nikolai Gogol’s short story of the same title into a modern play adaptation was truly a unique and daring idea from director Kati Vecsey, one I feel with more workshopping could become a powerful piece of art. Although I feel in its present state it felt incomplete, I can see the potential of “Diary of a Madman”.

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