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-shrinkâ€”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…itâ€™s loaded with crazy, imaginative touches, including the weirdly effective costuming designed by Jen Bevan. Sister Annaâ€™s sexy pink habit is a nice touch as is the overly ornate habit of Annaâ€™s superior, the very weird and ultra-cranky Mother Superior, Sister Barbara (Mary Suib). Barbaraâ€™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 PolishÂ play, and helping her players get into their characters and navigate Witkacyâ€™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, andâ€”for better or worseâ€”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; thereâ€™s a hell
of a good universe next door; letâ€™s go
Ambassador Theaterâ€™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.Â BY Terry Ponick