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Stage Review: 'Madhouse in Goa' tries to make sense, shed light on reality

Friday, October 27, 2000

By Richard E. Rauh

When we first encounter the flighty Mrs. Honey in Martin Sherman's satire, "A Madhouse in Goa," the season-opener at the Open Stage Theatre, we are impressed by her brio, her boundless energy.

'A Madhouse
In Goa'

WHERE: Open Stage Theatre at Hamburg Studio, 13th and Bingham, South Side.

WHEN: Through Nov. 11; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m.

TICKETS: $10-$12; 412-257-4056.

Richard E. Rauh is a free-lance actor, philanthropist and critic.


She holds forth on the veranda at an inn on Corfu, chattering on and on about her life, her dead husband, and her "morbid fear of lepers." And when she hears that writer Lawrence Durrell once ate at the inn, she disdains his classic "Alexandria Quartet."

Her roots are Mississippi, making her seem like a faded belle from a Williams play. Not so. She has strengths. While she can harangue the waiter for slow service (she carries a bell to alert him), or refuse to give up her table to the visiting Greek King Constantine II, she can also befriend David, a lonely, moody, gay Jewish writer-photographer. He tells her he is "drowning in my life." She tells him to lighten up, loosen up, and be free: "Do you want to unbutton something?" she asks.

There are promising possibilities here, but Sherman overloads his play with too many issues that seem to go nowhere. His play ultimately becomes too unfocused.

Act 1 begins in 1966, Act 2 is set on the island of Santorini in 1986 and the acts are tied together in a surprising way.

In Act 1, in addition to Mrs. Honey and David, there is Nikos, owner of the inn, and his waiter, Costos, who learns English from 1960s pop records. Eventually, Costos brings David to the beach to seduce him.

But Act 2 introduces us to the crucial character of Daniel, a nearly aphasic writer, whose novel we discover has been dramatized in all of Act 1. When he becomes frantic, he is tranquilized through acupuncture by Oliver (Nikos in Act 1), his caregiver. There is Heather (Mrs. Honey in 1), dying of cancer, and her son Dylan (David in 1), who wants to be rich. Barnaby (Costos in 1), a big Hollywood producer, appears with his girlfriend Aliki and wants to turn the novel into a musical.

Other problems pop up in Act 2: a terrorist on the island, a volcano erupting, and radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster heading toward Santorini.

Director Demetria Mellott has her hands full with a play that never completely takes off, but she has come up with a cast that tries to make some sense of it all.

Dixie Tymitz is perfect as Mrs. Honey, drawing every bit of theatricality out of the part, and she is equally good as the dying Heather. Varian Huddleston makes the waiter both funny and seductive, and his Hollywood producer has just enough of the bravado and slickness a con man needs. Bryan Bessor is right on the money as the smooth but secretive innkeeper and as the compassionate caregiver. Joanne Hildenbrand does a nice job as the sexy girlfriend, and T.C. Brown is appropriately off-the-wall as the aphasic Daniel. While Jay Smith's David lacks conviction, his Dylan is both real and natural.

Mrs. Honey might have had the right idea. That light she talks about could lighten things up, illuminating even the darkest corners, bringing us parts of reality we've never seen. Or maybe, even for a moment, that is what Martin Sherman's play is trying to do all along.

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