Next Theatre Company presents
Running Time: Two hours with a fifteen minute intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
‘Find the connection, that’s how you unravel a mystery.’ Three people. One room. Alone. Together. Next Theatre Company presents the Midwest premiere of MADAGASCAR. June is a tour guide. Nathan is an economist. Lillian is…? What does Lillian do? By her own definition, she ‘stays in motion.’ In a hotel room in Rome, three people tell the consequences of their life choices. June has discarded her old life because of a personal loss. Now, her only contact is mingling with transient travelers. Nathan is a businessman plagued with nightmares about dismemberment. He sees himself as a victim and a torturer. Lillian is a wealthy woman with unhealthy attachments. She focuses on artistic beauty and shuns unpleasant things. Taking turns, each person shares personal snippets. Their monologues have overlapping stories and mutual acquaintances to pull the trio closer together to be further apart. MADAGSCAR is a fantasy about being a couple degrees of separation from happiness.
J.T. Rogers has penned a mystery with sci-fi elements. Who are these people? How can they be in the same room and not see each other? Under the direction of Kimberly Senior, the first act is riveting. The trio engages the audience in their tales. It feels like a one-on-one exchange as a character talks directly to the audience. It’s a confessional of secrets looking for absolution. Cora Vander Broek (June), a shiny-faced beauty, garners sympathy as an innocent abandoned by love. Vander Broek muses humorously in her narration of ritual and coincidences. ‘You’ll find this interesting,’ Mick Webber (Nathan) is THAT guy. Webber is a gray-flannel-business-suit-man. Webber establishes the familiarity and then regularly makes fun of it. Webber’s self-depreciation charms with a flirty twist. Carmen Roman (Lillian) has the difficult task of finding the likability in a selfish socialite. Roman delivers her commentary with comedic aloofness and rare moments of vulnerable regret.
In the first act, the big mystery is identifying the characters’ connections. It keeps me enthralled as I gather pearls of information. By intermission, I have a satisfying strand to connect. With triple identification completed, the second act is not as captivating as the back story on a fourth character comes into play. The nature of the storyline changes the pacing in the second half. It goes from thriller-after- the- big- reveal to wrapping-up-loose-ends. The excitement lags dragging the story to conclusion. The fourth character’s non-appearance leaves questions about him and the goodness of humanity. J.T. Rogers provides a look at relationships from three perspectives, at three different times, from the same hotel room. Not to be confused with cartoon animals escaping from a zoo, this MADAGASCAR is named for a magical place conjured up by a mother for her children. It’s what happens when you run away from your family to your childhood dream and disillusionment is reality.
Moving to the back for more leg room, Dick describes it with ‘Room with a boo-hoo.’
Production photograph courtesy of Michael Brosilow.