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Diary  of  a  Madman
Directed by Keith T. Fadelici
Production Design by Tamara Cohen
Story by Nikolai Gogol
Solo Stage Adaptation - Written and Performed by John Monteleone
Performed on Theatre Row in NYC and at Dowling College


There is a necessity in human existence.
The need for dignity and love.
But what happens when that is lost?

Gogol's short story takes us into the world of an ordinary man who seeks to uphold his dignity as the world around him remains indifferent, even torturous. As the world around him attempts to crush his identity, he assumes new ones that elevate him above those who attack him. He seeks to learn about the woman he loves personal life, through conversations with her dog, and letters he believes the dog wrote. When he learns that she is marrying into wealth, and also that she laughs at him and despises him, his world crumbles. As he spirals downward, and is crushed by social forces, his delusions intensify into a harrowing journey through the human psyche and condition. His behavior, causes him to be thrust out of society, and tortured by the insensitive people he encounters deepening his alienation, but all the time pursuing ways to escape the torment - sometimes it's very painful, sometimes funny, always human. Gogol's story, written in 1830, is as relevant today as it was then, in Russia.

''Powerful Performance in "Diary of a Mad Man"..... Mr. Monteleone meets the almost impossible task of portraying a demented man who is sinking into the quagmire of hopeless melancholia by finding out elements of humor that fit like pegs between layers of tragedy.'  
Leah D. Frank, The New York Times

Monteleone keeps faith with the Gogol story, testing the conscience of his audience. the sicker his madman becomes, the funnier his lines. And laughing at him becomes a little sick, too. But it can't be helped. Monteleone is both funny and pathetic as the madman." 
Steve Parks, NEWSDAY 

"Your performance was certainly excellent!'
Nancy Bosco, Circle in the Square Theatre

"Congratulations on a most powerful performance.' 
Olivia Kim, PBS

Read the text

(backstage gossip):

This is a bit more about my acting process and how I perceive that process.

Then I go into the back stage issues the led to this production of Diary of a Madman, which is a Tour de Force for an actor and a powerful experience for the audience if, done with passion, patience in the discovery of this role and expertise of production elements.

Acting Process:

I've done a lot of acting in lots of different roles but had to leave NYC for various reasons all revolving around love and money as the central human defining elements. I had some success at an acting school for over 18 years, and ran a full time theatre company that was in residence at Dowling College and I also ran professional shows (I selected) on Theatre Row or other smaller theatres around NYC. It's hard to find actors who can challenge you when you are not living in the city - and even there it's not always that easy to do. I needed to challenge my art, myself, on all levels and remembered seeing Diary of a Madman at a small theatre about 10 years earlier and loved it. So I got the text. I have always been drawn to the underdog in society - and felt allowing an audience to see inside ordinary people, deepening their connection to them was a way of enriching human empathy through the art form. The challenge of creating character for me, has always been to find those things that are nothing like my own life, even experiences that I am not aware of on a personal level. I am interested in extreme characterization, not type casting or "using myself" as the foundation of the art form. My Self is vast, and it's there - but I do not like to use my own personality in a role - I do not understand that concept - the character is NOT me, that is the entire point. The writer didn't have ME in mind when he wrote it. The man in Diary of a Madman is a small, insignificant person in a huge bureaucratic and militaristic society, based on two classes - rich and poor. This was written in 1830 by Nicholai Gogol, but was so relevant to what I was seeing all around me in my life, and what I had seen growing up as I come from a family largely composed of immigrants who had a difficult time surviving in America during the Depression. My father, my family, and all I saw around me living in New  York's worst places for years, showed me this man's plight, and what social and psychological influences that might foster the destruction of human dignity and will. It is in the loss of dignity, we lose the foundation for our "self" and identity. In many ways I am a little man, an ordinary man living day to day in a large bureaucratic and militaristic culture, who uses fear as a basis of control - these were the same influences for Gogo's work. I was drawn to him, on these and other levels too complex to write about here - but you get the idea. When I developed characters, I rehearsed them for a long time, and used many techniques to elicit within me the areas of life I needed to explore. I have studied and taught nearly all of the disciplines that exist - but it always feels the same in the end - the process was no different in my 50th role as it was the first time I walked on stage in High School. The level of depth, complexity and how I had learned to express the character was vastly different, but arriving there was the same. When you read Stanislavksy and see examples of the three types of actors there is the "artist actor" that most replicates how things arrive for me. I'm not fast, I don't want to be fast at arriving at some level of experience that merges who I am with who this other is... fast belongs in commerce, not in art. Nevertheless, the touch of a prop, the sound of a voice, the movement of my arm, the way I sit, the thoughts the character thinks, are all areas of exploration that elicit something in me, I cannot describe. I suppose this is the talent actors have. It evolves out of a non-vain, no trickery place - I don't rely on my strengths as a person, my presence, or any other element - I allow everything to evolve from within me, and then the craft pieces it together into a performance. The performance then becomes it's own creature and a continual development happens until abandonment can exist - it is here where the art of acting lives. The rushing and commerce-driven pressures placed on everyone in developing theatre art today as well as films and television, rely very heavily on typecasting which is destroying not only the art form, but the possibility for advancement of the art of acting. Everything is democratized from the inner world, to the use of the actors instrument which great roles in theatre demand. Nevertheless, with acting, something obviously happens between the conscious and unconscious of the actor, where the habit of the characters inner life becomes second nature - and you can allow him to exist with you on stage. I don't know how this happens. It however, does happen. As I've gotten older I have learned that great art holds 3 unifying elements: Harmony, Wholeness and Radiance. Harmony being one moment working with the next even if counterpoint, wholeness being each harmonious piece working within the whole, harmoniously even if in counterpoint, and radiance letting the truth of one's voice/signature - the sound of Shakespeare. The voice, the radiance is truly the most unique part of the threesome and the most ignored as too many artists, especially actors get into this typecasting process of mind fucking. They think because they use "themselves" they are therefore unique - when the masks we portray on a survival level are common and easily identifiable defense mechanisms that limit character on a social level - we show ourselves as 1-2 dimensions, not the complex inner world of a character. The job of the actor is always to help tell the story of the script, but the ART of the actor is to reveal the story of the character - both exist.

The Production:

I hired a former student of mine Keith T. Fadelici, who was my age and had some real directing experience and talent, to direct the show. I told him that I wanted to allow the audience to peak inside the man, not just what they saw but what they saw and felt in the silence of this man's devastating transformation. The man slowly delves into insanity from a rational thinking process - as his rationalizations are to hold up his dignity, while the social forces around him indifferently suppress and punish each of his attempts. It's like watching a man trying to get to the surface of the water while someone's foot pushes him under each time and the water gets rougher and rougher. As this continues it becomes unbearable to watch and more unbearable NOT to watch - because we've all been that man under the water, or, we all have seen him or her. Even the humor in the piece which is a large part of the writing, comes from his need to survive. His Ego is crushed via the loss of love - the absence of opportunity, the need for recognition as a person, and to be a part of his tribe - his society. This sense of alienation interested me but not on a typical or shallow level. It's easy to intellectualize these components of human psychology, but it is another thing to examine the intricacies of what actually happens as someone's life is being killed. There are all of these moments in our lives - the loss of a loved one sends us to a barren reef alone in the Atlantic ocean with sharks around us - and the swim back to balance is not an easy one - the loss of love, the fear to find it again, are all mountains we need to climb and with each pain, it becomes harder. Yet the human "spirit" really can be profoundly strong. And that was what I saw in this man - this little man. This nerd of a man. This unattractive, funny, silly person who lived with is mother. This person I would never want to be. Never could be in totality. And I was him. I am him - I am him when those around me ignore me, because they fear the way I look, they fear my size, they fear my passion - they want to pigeon hole me into what they need for themselves instead of embracing what I am, etc.  I loved this person - he was far more interesting than me. So I worked on this with Keith, as well as using 3 pieces of the set, to be used in everyway possible - the table in the throws of being institutionalized and beaten, becomes his crown, the bed becomes the cage, etc.  What we see is that there is a duality in the presentation: Is he in his cell all along, re-enacting his story as a means of getting in touch with himself and thrust himself out of insanity, or, is this the story itself being seen for the first time?

We rehearsed this for about 3 months, and then presented it. My theatre company took 7 years to get the New York Times and Newsday to come down but once they did that for my first full-length play FARMLAND, they always attended. I had done works that were more "commercial in nature" like DEATHTRAP and LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS in an attempt to build my audience -- but that theory never worked well. I learned through experience, that doing that sort of thing wasn't building or even pleasing your audience - it was patronizing them on the worst level - it was condescending, fear-based, and mistrusting of their humanity.

With Diary, the first night we had 13 people in the audience. After the reviews, we packed the house for a month and took it to NYC. The Theatre I first presented it in was at Dowling College - a large black box that I developed there. The entire community threw a party for me, and it was really awesome to see how people reacted to this play. Standing ovations, critical praise - all of it happened in this small theatre. I learned that for something to be great, including one's life, organic truth is the main ingredient. Human beings respond very powerfully to truths, to common humanity and to new ideas - and, I think my work here was about that - probably the culmination of 20 years in the arts happening finally. Finding that you can perform at this level is hard to believe - it was for me. You come from all the mistakes, the pain of growth, being a student of the art - and then you're there - but in you is that same artistic child wondering if you'll ever get it right. This moment happened, but what I was not prepared for was the counterpart to all these positive things - namely human jealousy, ego, self-righteousness and power - which began the process of my demise at Dowling. One of the heads of the college threw his arms around me at the end of the performance and said "I love you" - and then I believe he, and others instead of putting into place the power to enable me to do more great things, conspired either consciously or unconsciously to destroy my academic and artistic career. A few years later I was out of a job I had developed for 15 years, had done over 6 productions a year, won critical praise for most of it and so on - in other words I did the work - and it was not rewarded. The artistic profile of these people for me was sad - to see intelligent, well educated people uphold mediocrity, and when someone of passion comes along their entire world collides with their sense of ego and sustenance. Suddenly they small differently at you - their teeth begin to bear themselves a little more - you can feel this hatred inside of them because you did something expertly, that somehow threatens their own abandonment of their talents. Now, you threaten their identity and they want you gone - so they can maintain their sense of mediocrity and safety. Of course they do this with a smile, with compassionate tones, but it's all a savage process of the abuse of power. It's most sad when this happens in institutions of learning! The saddest part of my academic ride was that I learned in Academia and often Theatre - people hire DOWN - they hire those that do not threaten their mediocrity, their limitations. It was an easier ride when I followed instructions, and, did work that was not powerful or important. You need a bank account to do that :).

Years later the administration of Dowling was fired by their board! Where were they when I was there? :)

After performing Diary of a Madman for a long time, I rewrote the text into a full evening which is the text above. The text I did for this production was taking the actual short story and editing it down a bit. The adaptation I did afterwards was to make it more theatre-performance worthy.

We filmed this production 3 nights in a row using three-quarter inch tape which was state of the art at the time - when BETA was just coming in. I told my friend who shot it for nothing, to use hanging mics OVER the set but he used a boom mic which captured all the small sounds and made the dialogue harder to hear. PBS showed an interest, but the sound wasn't good enough - and this is something that pisses me off to this day. The budget for filming it was next to nothing, I was not a wealthy person so I could not hire a professional crew. I did so with Perfectly Norm-iLL People, but Diary has a mediocre video of it.

I began work on my second solo - Perfectly Norm-iLL People which I had been working on for a while.