By Nadia Asencio
To call Jake Austin Robertson’s “Madman” a solo performance is to mislead; it’s a tour de force populated by a vibrant cast of distinct characters who seamlessly emerge, one from the other, through a single conduit who is both skilled and fearless in his delivery.
Two stories interweave: Jake, an awkward gay teenager discovering his sexuality in early-2000s America, and an unnamed heterosexual Office Clerk working for a formidable general in late-1800s Russia. Logic would dictate that these two characters have nothing in common, but Mr. Robertson, inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” and his own life experiences, masterfully culls a psychic landscape that places both men squarely on equal footing: on the fringes of the societies in which they live and longing for a love that can never be fulfilled.
The performance begins with Jake writing in his diary; it takes only moments for the first wave of laughter to erupt, and thankfully so. Director Sara Morgulis does a brilliant job of balancing this intense emotional rollercoaster with sharp bits of humor and wit throughout; just as the raw pain threatens to unspool prematurely, Mr. Robertson offers immediate comedic release, lending the piece an even deeper melancholic hue.
We learn that Jake’s doting mother is concerned about him, encouraging Jake to pursue a romantic relationship with his best friend, Jenna; that Jake’s well-meaning father takes him to church even while reassuring him that he’ll have no trouble with the ladies; and that Jake is woefully in love with his high school crush, Kyle. When we are introduced to the Clerk we learn that he is at the bottom of the totem pole in his station, where he’s been sharpening quills for 12 years; that he is secretly in love with Sophie, the general’s daughter; that he is convinced Sophie’s dog Madgey speaks (and writes!) – and that Madgey holds the key to Sophie’s feelings. The differences between these two men blur then dissipate when the clerk creates an alter ego as the King of Spain, a third character that helps both men create a world more palpable than the one they inhabit.
The audience was immediately transported into Mr. Robertson’s universe, as we traveled swiftly through space and time, witnessing each man struggle with the internal and external confines that encroach on his happiness; a hero’s journey that left us precisely where we started, but all the better for having taken the trip.
“Madman” is this and so much more, but to disclose the fullness of this production would be to rob future audiences of the pleasures this piece so generously provides. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t note the contributions of Gabrielle Weinstein (Stage Manager) and Shelly Callahan (Lighting Designer) in pulling the performance flawlessly together.
I have not witnessed as powerful a performance in a solo work since John Leguizamo’s masterpiece, “Mambo Mouth.” Mr. Robertson’s brave willingness to share his story is the stuff that true art is made of.
Written and Performed by Jake Austin Robertson
Sept. 23 at 7:30pm, Oct. 14 at 4pm, Oct. 17 at 9pm, Nov. 1 at 9pm
Director: Sara Morgulis
Original Text: Nikolai Gogol
Translation: Constance Garnett
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
NADIA ASENCIO is a first-generation Cuban American playwright, artist, and founder of The Scarlet Harlot Theatre Co. which chronicles the journeys of Hispanic and Black women. Her work can be found at www.nadiaasencio.com. She resides in NYC.