REVIEW: Madagascar (Next Theatre)


Flight and fright in a Roman hotel


Mick Weber and Carmen Roman in a scene from 'Madagascar' by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston

Next Theatre presents
Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by
Kimberly Senior
Noyes Cultural Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $25-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Now in an absorbing but ultimately frustrating Midwest premiere, J.T. Rogers’ 2004 puzzle play employs three characters who deliver concurrent confessions in the same stripped-down hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. They speak from different times and the subject of their unmotivated outpourings gradually becomes the strange vanishing of Gideon. A scion of wealth and privilege, this attractive young man went to Madagascar on a mission that may have ended in disappearance or death.

Nick Weber, Carmen Roman and Cora Vander Broek in a scene from "Madagascar" by J.T. Rogers - Next Theatre, EvanstonThe testimony is supplied by Lilllian (Carmen Roman), Gideon’s wealthy and detached mother; Gideon’s sister June (Cora Vander Broek), now working as a tour guide for the ancient ruins, and Lillian’s adulterous lover Nathan (Mark Weber), who is also an economist like the boy’s now-dead dad.

As they give themselves away, they provide clues about Gideon, an enigmatic beauty who seems to have been altogether too sensitive to the world’s wrongs; especially his mother’s coldness to him and warmth to Nathan.

Gideon’s discovery that his life was built on a lie (about his mother’s fidelity, his sister’s affection, Nathan’s loyalty to his father, or some schoolgirls recently raped in Africa?) seems to unhinge him and sets in motion a train of tragedies. Why is he so upset? “Because people just can’t be trusted!” and his mother is “selfish” and “grotesque.” Gideon sounds like a poor man’s Hamlet.

Sean Mallary’s lighting changes and the choreographed confessions blocked in Kimberly Senior’s staging keep the clue-mongering fluid and forceful. The play repeatedly raises the fascinating question of why some driven people all but will themselves to be missing persons. Do we have the right to disappear? Or do we owe it to others to keep our identity intact, however wrong it feels within?

Still, there’s too much deliberate or perverse mystery-mangling in this torturous witness to an escape that remains maddeningly evasive. There are too many blanks for the audience to fill in without finally feeling that the playwright hasn’t played fair with the facts.

Roman brings magisterial command to this ultimately devastated mother. Vander Broek’s questing sister, Gideon’s fraternal twin, gives us a refracted portrait of her brother. Weber’s Nathan supplies metaphors from micro-economics that shed a little light on the motivations or mentality of the missing Gideon.

If only this complex kid had appeared, we’d get some closure or at least an illusion of completion. But if you like to spend two hours not solving a missing person’s case, Madagascar is your ticket to nowhere.

Rating: ★★
Mick Weber and Carmen Roman in a scene from 'Madagascar' by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 5

Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 7




Carmen Roman* (Lilian) This is Carmen’s first production at The Next Theater. Favorite Chicago shows include: Side Man (Steppenwolf, The Galway Festival, Galway, Ireland and The Melbourne Arts Festival, Australia) Wit, Black Snow, Brutality of Fact (The Goodman Theatre), Master Class (Northlight Theatre and Columbia Artists Tour) Carmen has been an American Blues Company member for 20 years where she most recently played in Tobacco Road at The Richard Christiansen Theater at The Biograph. She has worked at Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Wisconsin for 11 seasons. Other credits include: National Tour: Angels in America Off-Broadway: The Iphigenia Cycle (Theater for a New Audience from The Court Theatre, Chicago), The Mysteries (Classic Stage Company), Paradise (Gary Allen productions), Regional: The Price (Syracuse Stage and Geva), The Importance of Being Earnest (Baltimore Centerstage), Lost in Yonkers (Coconut Grove, Walnut Street Theater) Sonia Flew (The Huntington Theatre), According to Goldman (Philadelphia Theater Company) Electra (Hartford Stage Company), Big Love (The Wilma), , Shadowlands (The Alliance Theater), Film/Television: The Falcon, (a co-production shot in Soviet Georgia), “All My Children”, “Early Edition”, “Law and Order” (Judge Einhorn, recurring), “Law and Order SVU” and "Criminal Intent," Savages, with Phillip Seymore Hoffman and Laura Linney. Company Member: American Blues Theater, Chicago, Circling the Drain, New York. Awards and Honors: 2002 Fox Fellow, Sarah Siddons Award, Florence Herscher Award, Joseph Jefferson Awards for Master Class and Wit.

Cora Vander Broek* (June) is thrilled to be working with Next Theatre Company.  Chicago credits include “Ann” in TimeLine Theatre’s All My Sons, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Northlight Theatre), Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Steppenwolf, U/S performance), The DNA Trail  (Silk Road / Goodman Theatre), Dead End (Griffin Theatre), as well as productions with Hypocrites, Raven, Serendipity, and the New York Fringe Festival.  Regional credits include Doubt and A Christmas Carol (Indiana Repertory Theatre), The Merry Wives of Windsor and Heartbreak House (Montana Shakespeare in the Parks).  A Jeff Citation Nominee and After Dark Award Winner, Cora is a graduate of the School at Steppenwolf. 

Mick Weber* (Nathan) Mick is thrilled to make his Next Theatre debut.  Other Chicago theatre credits include: Goodman Theatre (The Good Negro); Court Theatre (Thyestes); Chicago Shakespeare (Short Shakes Romeo & Juliet); Chicago Dramatists (The Invasion of Skokie).  New York Theatre: Circle Rep (Balm in Gilead); Players Theatre (Another Paradise); Soho Rep (Dream of Wealth).  Regional Theatre:  Fulton Opera House (Driving Miss Daisy); Actors Theatre of Louisville (Raisin in the Sun); Milwaukee Shakespeare (Macbeth).  Film/Television:  Happy Accidents (Brad Anderson); Polio Water (NY Film Festival); Law and Order (NBC); TV Funhouse (Comedy Central).  Mr. Weber has been an Actors Equity member for 26 years.

Kimberly Senior (Director) returns to Next where she previously directed The Overwhelming (also by JT Rogers) and The Busy World is Hushed and is an Artistic Associate. Most recently, she directed The North Plan (Steppenwolf); Thieves Like Us (House Theatre); Mauritius (TheaterSquared in Fayetteville, AR).  Kimberly has also directed the critically acclaimed productions of Uncle Vanya (Strawdog), The Pillowman (RedTwist), and All My Sons (TimeLine). She is the founder of Collaboraction, where she directed and/or produced over 30 plays, most notably the company’s lauded Sketchbook festival for seven years.  She is adjunct faculty at DePaul University, Columbia College and the University of Chicago. Kimberly also serves as an Artistic Associate with Strawdog Theater, Next Theatre and Chicago Dramatists.  She is the recipient of the 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award.

J.T. Rogers (Playwright) work in Chicago includes The Overwhelming (Next Theatre) and White People (The Gift Theatre). This season his play Blood and Gifts was his second to premiere at the Royal National Theatre, London. Rogers plays has been seen across London, where he was one of the author’s of the Olivier Award-nominated The Great Game (Tricycle Theatre), and on a UK-wide tour with Out of Joint. His works have been staged in New York City at the Roundabout Theatre, commercially Off Broadway, and as part of the SPF Play Festival, as well as in Israel, Germany, Australia, Canada, and throughout the United States. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists, a member of the Dramatists Guild, and holds an honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Upcoming: Blood and Gifts at Lincoln Center Theatre.

*Next Theatre company member

Production Team

Nancy Staiger* (Production Stage Manager) is pleased to be returning for her second season as Next Theatre’s Resident Production Stage Manager. Previous productions with Next Theatre include Boom, End Days, Return to Haifa and War With The Newts. Before moving to the Chicago area, Nancy served as the Resident Production Stage Manager at Laguna Playhouse, a LORT theatre in Southern California. Of the nearly forty productions stage managed there, favorites include: The Romance of Magno Rubio, The Woman in Black, American Buffalo, Rounding Third,The Shape of Things, Shear Madness, Forever Plaid, Always Patsy Cline (with Sally Struthers) and the Playhouse produced national tours of Copenhagen, and The Belle of Amherst (with Julie Harris). Nancy moved to Chicago to be with family, enjoy the “great weather” and participate in exciting theatre. So far there are no regrets!

Jackson C. Haywood (Dramaturg) is thrilled to be working with Next Theatre for the first time.  He received his BA in Directing from Columbia College Chicago where his directing credits include Christopher Durang’s Naomi In the Living Room, and David Mamet’s Water Engine.  He assistant directed Jonathan Berry on Of Mice and Men (CCC) and Scott Olson on Joe Janes 365 Sketches.  He has stage managed at Gorilla Tango and Rendition Theatre’s Echoes of the War and looks forward to dramaturging Conquest of the South Pole at Strawdog Theatre this spring.

Christopher Kriz (Sound Designer) works nationally as a composer and sound designer. Most recent theatre credits include the national tour of America Amerique (Jena Company), Eclipsed (Northlight Theatre), Lonesome West (Gift Theatre), The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe (First Folio), Aiming For Sainthood (Victory Gardens), Thieves Like Us (House Theatre), Lobby Hero (Redtwist Theatre), Master Harold and The Boys (TimeLine Theatre), Brainpeople (Urban Theatre), The Invasion Of Skokie (Chicago Dramatists), Equus (Redtwist Theatre), Dental Society Midwinter Meeting (Chicago Dramatists), Baal (TUTA), Spin (Theatre Wit), The Hiding Place (Provision Theatre), All My Sons (TimeLine Theatre) and The Ruby Sunrise (Gift Theatre). Upcoming productions include Dental Society Midwinter Meeting (16th Street Theatre) and Precious Little (Rivendell Theatre). To hear more of his work, please visit

Jack Magaw (Scenic Designer) lives in Chicago and teaches design at both DePaul and Northwestern Universities. Most recently he designed Well and The Busy World Is Hushed at Next Theatre. Other Chicago and regional theatre credits include Samuel J & K (Steppenwolf Theatre), Eclipsed and A Life (Northlight Theatre), Heroes (Peninsula Players Theatre), Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, Home and The Mystery of Irma Vep (Court Theatre), Funny Girl (Drury Lane Oakbrook), Mauritius (TheatreSquared), She Loves Me, The Old Settler and Picnic (Writers Theatre), All My Sons (TimeLine Theatre), Evie’s Waltz (Geva Theatre), This Wonderful Life (Indiana Repertory Theatre), Radio Golf (Pittsburgh Public Theatre), Winesburg, Ohio and A Flea In Her Ear (Kansas City Repertory). He received Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for Picnic and Bus Stop (Writers’ Theatre), Fences (Court Theatre) and Seven Guitars (Congo Square). Upcoming projects include Cabaret (Kansas City Rep), Gee’s Bend (Cincinnati Playhouse) and Conquest Of The South Pole (Strawdog Theatre).

Sean Mallary (Lighting Designer) This is roughly Sean’s 10th collaboration with Kimberly, but his first with the Next Theatre Company. He is the assistant lighting supervisor at The Goodman, and a proud ensemble member of the Strawdog Theatre Company. Last summer he received a Jeff Award for Strawdog’s St. Crispins’s Day, and he most recently designed The Iliad directed by Steve Wilson at A Red Orchid Theatre.

Jim Manganello (Assistant Director) graduated from the University of Michigan in 2009, where he directed Richard II, The Goat or Who is Sylvia?, and Measure for Measure. He assistant directed The Cabinet (2010) at Redmoon and is currently Artistic Intern at Remy Bumppo. He will be directing his own adaptation of War and Peace in May. Thanks to Kimberly for this opportunity.

Christine Pascual (Costume Designer) is delighted to be working with Next Theater again. Previously for Next she designed Fabulation and Defiance.  Recently Christine has designed 26 Miles for Teatro Vista and Rivendell at Chicago Dramatists, Sizwe Banzi is Dead at Court Theatre, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity off Broadway at Second Stage Theatre and at Victory Gardens, Our Lady of the Underpass at 16th Street Theatre and for Teatro Vista, The House on Mango Street at Steppenwolf, Welcome to Arroyo’s for American Theatre Company.  Additional credits include Jarred for Teatro Luna, The Romance of Magno Rubio, Hambone, and Blackbird for Victory Gardens, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Seven Guitars, Elmina’s Kitchen, Congo Square Theatre, Ten Cent Night for Chicago Dramatists, Piano Lesson, The First Breeze of Summer, Flyin’ West for The Court Theatre, True West,Topdog Underdog, People’s Temple, Elliot A Soldier’s Fugue for Rivendell/Teatro Vista at Steppenwolf.


Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 8


One Response

  1. I really enjoyed this play — script great, set great, acting the best. Never felt there was a “mystery” or the need to encounter the missing Paul/Gideon. Where he might be — alive or not — didn’t seem relevant. This play was about (to me) a relationship from three different POVs.

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