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NY Theater Reviews

Geoffrey Rush/ Ph: Stephanie Berger



Geoffrey Rush predictably dazzles, even if the vehicle he rides in on could use a tune-up.

Way too batty to bear for long the title of “antihero,” Geoffrey Rush’s madman experiences little by way of slippery slope. Got up (by costume designer Tess Schofield) in a stained scarlet greatcoat and matching Bozoid coif, his Aksentii Ivanovich Poprishchin is too clearly a lunatic from the get-go. No one with so glaring a disregard for the appearance he presents would last long in civil service, even if his duties were limited – as Poprishchin’s evidently are – to sharpening the nibs of his boss’s quills.
Ill served by this clownish garb (not to mention outlandish blue eye shadow), Rush holds the line for as long as he can. Holed up in Catherine Martin’s bleak, blood-red garret, Poprishchin fumes and rants – to his diary, with many a glance to the audience for moral support – about the various indignities involved in his job, and the shortcomings of his officemates. So far, so sane. Who among us has not done the same?
As he scribbles, a pair of multi-instrumental musicians off to the side (Paul Cutlan and Erkki Veltheim) provide underscoring and punctuation – a touch that seems kitschy at first, but their presence at least gives Rush somewhere to focus his considerable energy. Like a street performer, he seems driven by a deep need to connect with his onlookers. Also providing a sounding board, albeit one devoid of comprehension, is bouncy Yael Stone as a country-bumpkin Finnish maid.
The pity of this play – adapted from the 1835 Gogol original by playwright David Holman, director Neil Armfield, and the star himself for an Australian premiere in 1989, before Rush hit the big time – is that Poprishchin’s trajectory from peculiar to bonkers is so very precipitous (even given a gratuitous and disruptive intermission). It’s difficult to laugh at this bedraggled popinjay’s oddities when all-out alienation (in the psychiatric rather than theatrical sense) is clearly just around the corner, if not already in full swing.
When Poprishchin segues into full decompensation mode (triggered by disappointment in his wholly imaginary suit of his boss’s daughter, also played by Stone), Rush amps up to Grotowskian grotesquery. It’s an impressive sight – enhanced by body makeup that makes Rush look preternaturally buff, unlike your ordinary nib-sharpener or pencil-pusher – and it’s no doubt just what the audience has come to see. If you were expecting a fully fleshed-out drama, however, and not just a prolonged tour de force, you may come away feeling under-rewarded for your efforts. Welcome to Poprishchin’s world.