Also see Fred's review of Kiss Me, Kate
Paul (called Gideon by his mother only) has disappeared. Lillian (Debra Jo Rupp), his mother, travels all over but remains sad, guilt-ridden and empty. Her husband Arthur (never seen) went to Madagascar and, at some point, died. He had been a successful economist but an absent father who spent much time in Africa. Lillian then had an affair with his business partner Nathan (Paul O'Brien). Meanwhile, Paul's sister June (Kim Stauffer) tries to figure it out. At the beginning of the play, she says, "If you choose to vanish, you owe your past nothing." In fact, June searches for her beloved sibling. She has a postcard and gathers from it that Paul still survives.
James Warwick, directing, has his hands full since the individual actors speak to the audiencenot one another. It does feel as if, perhaps, they should be talking amongst themselves, but Warwick's interpretation honors the author's intent. While playwright Rogers deserves commendation for his effort, it is not certain that the combination of technique and style is fully effective. Some threads within the story fabric come together while others do not. On the other hand, Rogers might have this in mind. Thematically, Madagascar is about love, loss, remembrance and self-punishment.
The CTC production is finely tuned, specific and nuanced. Each of the actors is convincing. Debra Jo Rupp, playing a wealthy New York woman, will never recover from the loss of her son Gideon. Kim Stauffer's June is often radiant through her suffering! As Nathan, Paul O'Brien evidences his character's conflict.
Rogers is a skilled writer (who does provide some witty sequences) but this play has too many disconnects to fully congeal. The characters are unfulfilled and sometimes deluded. Theatergoers have to work hard in order to stay with Madagascar. In some ways, that is fair; and it is easy, in a sense, to root for this play. Perhaps the separatist monologues create space for those watching to fill in blanks and further ponder Paul's departure. That Rogers presents different voices is believable. His determination to write from a distance and never overstate is clear. Ultimately, those decisions, though, leave the viewer perplexed.
Madagascar continues at the Chester Theatre Company in Chester, Massachusetts, through July 6, 2014. For tickets, visit www.chestertheatre.org or call (413) 354-7771.
- Fred Sokol