The Madman and the Nun at Ambassador Theater
By Charlotte Asmuth – December 5, 2011
The Mead Theatre is, indeed, a lab. As soon as you enter the lobby, you are immersed in what appears to be an art exhibit â€” yes, you are in the right place â€” and invited to peruse programs in the guise of medical files.
The theatrical experiment begins fittingly early for Stanislaw Witkiewiczâ€™sÂ The Madman and the Nun, in which Dr. Bidello (a dementedly overdramatic Ivan Zizek) is only too eager to pawn his job of curing a deranged poet, Walpurg (John Stange), off on an unlucky nun and a freewheeling psychiatrist. Walpurg turns out to be the poet his new caregiver, Sister Anna (Jenny Donovan), read with her ex-fiancÃ©, an engineer who committed suicide. This disclosure prompts Walpurg to quip, cheerfully, â€œSo nowadays even engineers can have problems like that?â€ In no time at all, Sister Anna has returned Walpurgâ€™s â€œI love youâ€ and renounced her religion on his behalf.
Let the farce begin.
DirectorÂ Hanna Bondarewska has neatly orchestrated both the quietude necessary for the intimate moments between Walpurg and Sister Anna and the chaotic hilarity that ensues when the entire cast is onstage. Her swooping choreography when Anna helplessly joins Walpurg in a looping rocking sequence in one scene is mesmerizing.
The ensemble is comprised of Mary Suib (as the chastising Sister Barbara with a â€œpenitence complexâ€), David Berkenbilt (as the doctor with â€œa little too much of the sexualâ€ in his theory), Ray Converse as the batty Professor Walldorff, James Randle and Jen Bevan as Attendants.Â Berkenbilt is delightfully absurd. When Walpurg kills Dr. Bidello in a fit of whimsical jealousy, he exclaims, â€œThis is unheard of! So you really feel alright?â€ He is laughably recognizable as the psychiatrist who gets â€˜treatedâ€™ by the patient. The croaky catch in Suibâ€™s voice slows down her delivery making her punch lines all the better. Converse plays Walldorff as sexually ambiguous, making his critique of Berkenbiltâ€™s â€œtoo sexualâ€ theory all the more ironic.
John Stange brings a warm, strange humor to his portrayal of the straitjacketed, insaneÂ poet who oscillates between sarcastic cheeriness and paranoia, sometimes by merely redirecting the distance of his gaze. Youâ€™ll laugh hard when Walpurg and Anna are caught in flagrante because Jenny Donovan keeps the timid nunâ€™s sexuality subtly latent.
Costume Designer Jen Bevan decks Donovanâ€™s Anna out in aÂ hot pink dress with chunky, sparkling heels to match. Set Designer Daniel Pinha has two monitors emitting colorful EEG waves on either side of a mounted mattress in the center of the stage. Marianne Meadowsâ€™ lighting effectively evokes the prison that is the sanitarium and David Crandallâ€™s sound design is quietly omnipresent.
The finale is dissociation of the self-physicalized â€“ and theatre of the absurd realized.
Running time: About 90 minutes.