The Maderati (Haberdasher Theatre Inc. – Columbus, OH)

The Maderati by Richard Greenberg is a two-act farce about a group of artsy, vapid people coming to terms with the aftermath of the previous night’s party that left one of their own in a psych ward. What follows is a comical version of the game Telephone where everyone adds their own spin on what may or may not have happened to their recently committed friend: Was she hit by a cab? Did she get an abortion? Was she murdered? Does anyone really care? Each person has a way of making the fate of their friend about themselves, quick to grab the spotlight should anyone try to take it away. In summary, these are NOT the kind of people you would want as friends.

As the inaugural production of the Columbus branch of Haberdasher Theatre Inc., The Maderati is as good a choice of material as any comedy for a cast unafraid of being disliked, the litmus test for a true professional in my mind. Though filled with an attractive cast of young performers, I didn’t feel like all of the actors knew that they were in the same play; some overacted tremendously while others were deadly serious, and one performer expressed no discernible emotion whatsoever. Still, there were some performers that stood out from the group and were consistently interesting to watch.

Briavel Schultz’s Cuddles Molotov is dangerously funny as an Eastern European femme fatal who rapidly vacillates between being homicidal and deeply affectionate. Sure, her part probably has some of the best lines (“My pity for you is matched only by my contempt”), but Schultz knows just how to spit them out with maximum effect, equal parts Natasha from “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and Euro Trash guttersnipe. She has a firm grasp on the absurdity of her character and holds firm even when some of her scene partners don’t know how to react to her.

Billy DePetro’s Ritt Overlander is more than the typical cuckold, sweet and supportive but very much a follower to his wife. DePetro strikes an imposing frame that is quickly dispelled by his willingness to be as silly and docile as his part requires. His face is wonderfully expressive, and he finds moments to bring a kind of sincerity to the role that is perhaps not in the text.

Zach Lyon’s Chuck Debutts is the most underwritten role in the play, so it’s doubly surprising that Lyon has found a way to make the character so real and responsive. He plays it straight and natural, a refreshing change from the cornucopia of performances going on around him, and he responds in a way that shows that he is listening. It’s difficult to articulate exactly, but Lyon gives the impression that he has a lot more to show given the right material.

Director/Sound Designer/Producer/Artistic Director Hollie Klem wears a variety of hats that would sink anyone with less energy. Klem keeps the show moving at a brisk pace and finds inventive ways to move around the set pieces to represent many locations. Everyone can consistently be heard and understood, a feat in and of itself what with the often erratic sound of the shows I see locally. I was a bit confused by the opening scene that takes place in silhouette and is perhaps too quick to take in, and I wasn’t a fan of the songs used to bridge scenes (I think quirky instrumentals would’ve suited the material more). Still, she has taken a group of young performers with varied strengths and corralled them to tell this story, fostering an environment in which they work well together towards the same goal even if I wasn’t convinced they all quite got the point of the play. 

The Maderati shows what we should all aspire to avoid being, the kind of self-obsessed cyphers that bounce from one catastrophe to the next. It’s also oddly prescient being a piece from 1987, before smartphones, the Internet, and the reality television of today has served to encourage a new breed of these kinds of people to flourish. This production is ultimately successful in getting that point across, and it is consistently entertaining if also uneven.

**/ out of ****

The Maderati continues through to September 26th in the MadLab Theatre located at 227 North Third Street in downtown Columbus, and more information can be found at http://haberdashertheatre.com

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