Dec 092011

The principal actors do a bangup job of adding wit, personal trauma, and wild eccentricity to the action, particularly John Stange as the wildly mood-swinging Walpurg and David Berkenbilt as a crackpot analyst-shrink—clearly a dig at the sex-obsessed world of Sigmund Freud. The supporting cast, including Ray Converse, Jen Bevan, and James Randle, add sinister helping hands as well…it’s loaded with crazy, imaginative touches, including the weirdly effective costuming designed by Jen Bevan. Sister Anna’s sexy pink habit is a nice touch as is the overly ornate habit of Anna’s superior, the very weird and ultra-cranky Mother Superior, Sister Barbara (Mary Suib). Barbara’s pancake makeup and huge, fluttering fake eyelids make this character even funnier.

But perhaps the biggest hat tip of all goes to director Hanna Bondarewska. Working with scholars to establish a faithful, working English translation of this Polish play, and helping her players get into their characters and navigate Witkacy’s intriguing, multi-layered, glorious mess of a play, she brings a long-neglected playwright vividly back to life, exploring once again his oddly forward looking views on life, reality, art, and—for better or worse—the role of mind-altering substances in transporting an artist to other realms where creativity may somehow be more highly regarded as a glimpse of the divine.

For Witkacy, it seems, life might ultimately be summed up in the words of an American uppercase-challenged poet e. e. cummings, who later wrote:

listen; there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go

Ambassador Theater’s production of The Madman and the Nun runs thru Dec 18, 2011 at Flashpoint Gallery, Mead Theatre Lab, 918 G Street NW, Washington, DC. BY Terry Ponick

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