I was blessed to see Diary of a Madman staring Geoffrey Rush at BAM about a week ago. It was a brilliant show from the acting, to the costumes, to the casting everything about this event was spot on. There have been several good reviews by prominent reviewers so I wanted to focus instead on how the set played into the creation of the story.
Diary of A Madman tells the story of a Russian, low-level bureaucrat named, Aksentii Poprishchin (Played by Geoffrey Rush) and his spiraling decent into madness. The only other character in the show is that of his Maid (seen in the above picture) a young Polish woman, who understands more about Russia and Poprishchin then the title character would have us believe.
The challenge for the set designer in such a play is to create a space that would feel realistic to both the audience and the Maid’s character and yet transform easily into the places that poor Poprishchin sees in his mind. Catherine Martin (set designer) created a decaying attic, with limited views of an outside world (through the skylight), that as the play progressed became more and more undone, a reflection as it were, of the Madman’s mind.
Mr. Rush used the space beautifully, creating thrones out of overturned tables and then bringing us back to the worn down attic as he crawled into bed lamenting his work, his station and his life. When at the end of the play, we see the stage transform into the Asylum, it is not with moving walls or rotating stages, but with simple elements of destruction; a bed without a mattress, a stack of newspapers strewn across the floor and overturned furniture.
It is as Ben Brantley said in his NYTimes Review “This is meant to be one of those shows that’s funny until it isn’t, at which point everything you laughed at earlier is cast in a sobering, retrospective shadow.” Catherine Martin’s set creates a space that allows for the duality of this story, a space that allows the characters to thrive within it and to begin that decent into the life of the Madman.