REVIEW: Madeleine Remains (Clove Productions)

How an epic fail can destroy a delicacy

 

clove productions poster

  
Clove Productions presents
   
Madeleine Remains
  
Written by Michael Martin
Directed by Shannon Evans
at the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through July 17th  |  tickets: $12   |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Michael Martin’s new one-woman play, MADELEINE REMAINS: In Memory, A Wife of Genius, is quite a casual production at the side project theatre in Rogers Park. Not that that’s a bad thing. A certain community sensibility pervades the scene at Clove Productions. A feeling of comfort, casualness, and ease exudes from the presence of madeleine remains close friends, family, and long-time theatre compatriots in attendance. This is intimate theater in Chicago in the warm summer air. Here, new works in progress receive a low-key reception, profoundly appreciative of small and delicate work.

Directed by Shannon Evans and produced by Clove Productions, small and delicate is precisely how one should describe Madeleine Remains. It could also be called fine art comedy, since its humor is as ornate and fine-spun as filigree silver jewelry.

The wife of Andre Gide is explaining her life as the simple, unadorned and introverted muse of a modern literary genius. She is also the turn-of-the-century wife to a deeply closeted gay author. His love for her is of a heightened spiritual kind that has no need for earthly passion—or so he tells her when they marry. He even writes love letters to her, which he claims are his finest literary creations. Too bad the ethereal romance of their marriage shows its feet of clay when Andre runs off for a long romance with 16 year-old Mark. This leads Madeleine to burn Andre’s spiritual love letters, but not before she has committed each and every one of them to memory.

One would think this kind of monologue would be burdened with melodramatic histrionics. But Martin’s writing is more cunning than that and in Ariel Brenner he has an actress precisely cast for the role. Brenner has captured Madeleine’s every quiet, unimposing introverted tic and created a comic tour de force with her perfectly timed execution of Martin’s lines. It’s as if Brenner had invented “Less is More” with her exacting portrayal of Madeleine’s subtle personality and exquisitely demur ego.

Sadly, on the night I witnessed the production, an epic fail overthrew all that exquisite work. Brenner stalled right in the middle of the monologue, visibly retreated into her chair, and simply could not recover. A generous and ardent admirer from the audience took her hand and led her from the stage so that she could collect herself. Brenner returned to the stage, the rest of the script in hand, and picked up about where she had left off, relying on the script the rest of the way.

It’s truly difficult to assess the rest of Martin’s work from these unfortunate circumstances. Much of the well-established comic timing that Brenner had slain with was lost. Near the end, Madeleine remarks to the audience that she could recite the content of Andre’s love letters to them, but she refuses to do so until the audience comes to visit again. The ending seemed strikingly flat compared to such a light, bold, and promising beginning. Perhaps Martin would not like to imitate the writing style of Andre Gide by reproducing such an infamous lost text in his script. However, it would be nice to know what Madeleine thinks of a love that is based on airy nothingness—whether she thinks it greater or lesser than the earthly kind.

  
   
Rating: ★★
  
  

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