Review: "Diary of a Madman” at the American Theatre of Actors

Anthony J. Piccione

  • OnStage Contributing Critic

Of the shows I’ve seen over the past year or so, I would reckon that at least a third of them have probably been one-person shows. Often times, I find they tend to provide vivid portraits – some of which are more clearly vivid than others – into the mind and heart of the central characters. Diary of a Madman – performed by Ilia Volok at the American Theatre of Actors – certainly affirms that point of view, and it provides such a portrait in a way that proves to be a particularly fine visual and theatrical experience.

Based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol, Madman tells the tale of Poprishchin, a low-level Russian civil servant who documents his love for the daughter of a higher-ranking official, and as he goes on, gradually falls deeper and deeper into the depths of insanity. According to the show’s website, the play has run on quite a few other occasions before – both in NYC and in LA – to critical acclaim, and it’s not too difficult to see why. This adaptation of the original story is very well-written, and is delivered with an energy that vividly displays the dark, psychological troubles of this character.

Under the direction of Eugene Lazarev, this production – taking place in the Beckmann Theatre, the black box venue located at the American Theatre of Actors – makes great use of the space, and of various lighting and sound effects. While I’ve often found myself applauding the performances in one-person shows such as this, I have admittedly found them to be lacking – intentionally or not – in using other technical aspects that I personally feel enhance the viewing experience. That wasn’t the case here, where light and sound plays an instrumental role in illustrating Poprishchin’s story. This was a nice aspect of the production that I particularly enjoyed.

Of course, the main highlight of this production is the performance of Mr. Volok, who is best known for appearing in over a hundred films and television shows, including films such as Air Force One and The Curious Incident of Benjamin Button and television shows such as Shameless, NCIS, The Americans and Scandal. Over the course of the show, he is very clearly immersed in the character, in a way that displays Poprischchin’s psychological depth and keeps the audience captivated and entertained throughout. It takes a great actor to bring that type of character to life and Mr. Volok deserves to be commended for his success in doing that.

As I indicated earlier, this play is deserving of much of the praise it has received in the past. It is a very dark and often entertaining show, and the performance and the staging of the play are done in a way that is very well-down and won’t leave you bored for a second. Be sure to consider attending the show during its current run at the American Theatre of Actors, if you have the chance.


“Diary of a Madman" runs at the American Theatre of Actors from October 26th to November 12th. For more information, please visit