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Theater review: 'Diary of a Madman' 3 stars

Geoffrey Rush in

Geoffrey Rush in "Diary of a Madman" Photo Credit: Handout

The Diary of a Madman

3 stars

There’s no shortage of adjectives to describe Geoffrey Rush’s highly theatrical, ultra-flamboyant, unexpectedly tragic performance in David Holman’s adaptation of Gogol’s 1835 short story “The Diary of a Madman.”

In any event, it is the polar opposite of his work in “The King’s Speech.”

Whereas Rush played a lunatic king in Ionesco’s “Exit the King” on Broadway two seasons ago, he now plays Akesentil Poprishchin, a lowly but self-loving civil servant whose grand, overreaching ambitions cause him to believe that he is a king. He even turns his bed sheets into a royal gown.

Set in his stark and shadowy lodgings in St. Petersburg, the play begins with Rush’s character whining to the audience about his depressing lot in life and scolding his poor maid (played by Yael Stone).

Soon, he suspects that two dogs have been writing each other love letters and that he is the rightful heir to the Spanish throne. Eventually, he is placed in a straitjacket and locked away as a lunatic.

Rush displays an old-fashioned vaudevillian spirit as he directly addresses the audience from the footlights.

He becomes more of a clown throughout his descent into madness — and even sports a red nose. But after much flamboyant theatricality and physical comedy, he ends on a sincerely sad and pitiful note.

While the play itself is little more than a two-hour monologue, it stays true to the intimate and idiosyncratic nature of Gogol’s original story and serves as a terrific showcase for Rush.

If you go: “The Diary of a Madman” plays at the BAM Harvey Theater through March 12. 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn, 718-636-4100, bam.org.

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