By J. T. Rogers
Directed by Kimberly Senior
At Next Theatre, Evanston
Haunting puzzle play features smart acting
One of the toughest styles to use on stage is the use of interlocking monologues spoken directly to the audience by several players each describing a series of personal recollections to tell a story – which in Madagascar – is a mystery with secrets. Using Jack Magaw’s sparse set depicting a Rome hotel room with a balcony overlooking the Spanish Steps, there are hints of tragedy laced with mystery in this tale.
Told by three actors each wonderfully recalling their story despite almost no character interaction, playwright Rogers weaves a tale that takes a good deal of work on the audience’s part since the early scenes are filled with anecdotal tidbits by the three storytellers that seems to move around in time and place. But if you keep tune-in, Madagascar eventually pays off.
We meet June (Cora Vander Broek), a 30something women dressed in a white nightgown as she charmingly tells her story about her unseen brother Paul (aka Gideon) and her mother, Lilian (Carmen Roman). Add Nathan, Lilian’s lover and the business associate of Lilian’s husband and we have the three players necessary to unravel Rogers’ puzzle play.
We never meet the the two dominant characters – the father – a charismatic academic and economic adviser who travels the world solving financial crises. The other important figure is Paul, June’s twin brother who takes the persona of his father. Young Paul is the mama’s boy smothered by his lonely mother Lilian. He is also June’s playmate and confident.
As the series of personal reflective monologues play out, we start to see how the family dynamic – filled with loneliness, boredom and escapist travel shapes the lives of the family. Wealth and privilege allow the family the freedom to relocate and explore the world. But an absent father leads Lilian to take Nathan as a lover and companion while June and young Paul retreat into fantasy as they heed Lilian’s mantra: “We’re going to Madagascar.”
Lilian uses her direct-to-the-audience communications as part confessional and part justification of her life. Nathan’s gulit and envy are almost overwhelming while June confess her too strong emotional ties to her twin brother.
What makes this play so enticing, so compelling and so stage worthy are a combination of the lyrical language filled with rich imagery and the outstanding, deeply-felt performances by the three talents. We empathize with Lilian’s mother’s protectiveness; with June’s attachment to her brother; and Nathan’s need to share his loneliness with the lonely Lilian.
Without giving away any more secrets from the mystery, let me say that Madagascar is a gripping thriller about the affects of a disappearance by a family member that cripples all. At three different periods in time, three Americans find themselves alone in the hotel room they used often. They overlay time and space to unravel their mysterious story; secrets are revealed. The resolution of the mystery is worth the journey as Rogers’ story illuminates the uniqueness of his characters. You’d be hard pressed to find three finer, more heartfelt performances that presented by Roman, Vander Broek and Weber.
At Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston, IL, www.nexttheatre.org, tickets $25 – $40, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through February 20, 2011