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'Mad Madge' by Rose Napoli WORLD PREMIERE

Presented by Nightwood Theatre in association with VideoCabaret now onstage at The Theatre Centre

Presented by Nightwood Theatre in association with VideoCabaret now onstage at The Theatre Centre

Joe Szekeres

(Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz. L-R: Izad Etemadi, Wayne Burns, Rose Napoli, Nancy Palk)

“Rose Napoli embodies the bodacious Mad Madge with a feisty flair and delivers a stunning performance.”

Seventeenth-century society is captivatingly turned upside down in ‘Mad Madge,’ a world premiere by Nightwood Theatre in association with VideoCabaret. Playwright Rose Napoli’s tale deals with the real-life fame hunter Margaret Cavendish who, (according to director Andrea Donaldson’s Programme Note): “is reported to have pushed boundaries through her prolific and uncrafted writing ideas, her unusual fashion sense…and standing up bare breasted with her nipples painted red at the theatre.”

‘Mad Madge’ clearly resonates in our twenty-first-century world. The play is sometimes somewhat raunchy, but it’s written with purpose. Napoli’s 17th-century tumultuous setting of reversing sexual and gender roles and mores appears commonplace and expected. Men have become women (sounds slightly familiar, doesn’t it?). Women want to leave their mark on the world in any way possible. Remember the fame surrounding the late Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles’s response at that time.

A poet, philosopher, and scandal—maker, Margaret (who became known as Madge) wants to leave a mark on the tumultuous world in which she lives. Such brash qualities would have been unseemly in 17th-century women, but Madge is unconcerned with such character labels. Her hunt for fame becomes an obsession as she does not want her understanding of women “to live and die like worms” (again, according to Donaldson’s programme note). Margaret did all she could to escape this fate and hoped people centuries later would still be talking about her.

The following message from Napoli was projected on the lobby wall outside the Franco Boni Theatre in Toronto’s Theatre Centre:

“What you are about to see is not wholly inaccurate. But close.”

I would like to add something to that above statement:

“And be prepared for a hell of an enjoyable ride in the process.”

The young Margaret leaves the dull and lonely family life that she knows to go and become famous in the life of the 17th-century court. Her first job is shit bucket girl to Queen Henrietta. Later, Madge becomes confidante to the Queen.

Cavendish has also written several books, one in particular ‘The Blazing World’ known as the prototype for science fiction. Madge does everything she can to get her book reviewed by well-known diarist and commentator Samuel Pepys. Margaret was also the first woman to be invited to The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. Playwright Napoli creatively stylized in her script how Madge gets herself invited to speak to Pepys.

The production takes place in a theatre in the round setting, with the actors entering and exiting from all four sides. Its fast and furious pacing periodically left me breathless and exhausted, but I wanted to see and know where the story was headed.

Visually, the production utilizes the playing space well within the Boni Theatre. The production designs by Astrid Janson, Abby Esteireiro, Merle Harley, and Alessia Urbani caught my eye with the costumes' various colours, hues, tones, and textures. Attention to detail has been paid to some of the garments. Rebecca Vandevelde’s lighting sharply focuses attention where needed. Olivia Wheeler’s sound design is precisely executed when necessary for dramatic effect and intent.

Director Andrea Donaldson skillfully never allows the production to veer out of control. There remains a continued sense of purpose behind the crazed and outlandish situations.

The multi-faceted ensemble cast is outstanding, and a few play more than one role.

Nancy Palk’s pompous and haughty Queen Henrietta is hilarious. Palk spends a good deal of time in this role sitting on ‘the throne’ and still maintains a sense of class and comportment until it is revealed just how ‘naughty’ the queen is. Wayne Burns and Izad Etemadi are entertaining as Trudy and Judy, ‘valley girls’ and ladies in waiting who become jealous of Madge’s quickly escalating fame. They become playful reminders of Tweedledee and Tweedledum from ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Farhang Ghajar is a riot as Henrietta’s sex toy, Dycker,(get it?) in the first act and as daytime TV Host Brothel Bob, in the second. He also becomes the voice of reason as Margaret’s brother, Bob, when she must return home in the second act. Karl Ang becomes a dashing William Cavendish who ultimately wins over Margaret and her antics to become famous.

‘Mad Madge’ is clearly Napoli’s show. In her Programme Note, she speaks of how she risked herself in the writing and even at the top of the show.

Risk-taking is a good thing, especially in the theatre.

Napoli embodies the bodacious Madge with a feisty flair and delivers a stunning performance.

And Another Thought: I couldn’t help but think of a connection I used to make with high school students when I taught about some of the greatest literary tragic characters and their madness. Within their madness, these figures saw the truth for what it is.

Napoli became interested in Cavendish several years ago when a Toronto woman threw a chair off a balcony onto the Gardiner Expressway. Yes, that woman was mad for throwing an item that could cause destruction; however, as I think further about that situation, was that Toronto woman perhaps revealing a truth about us that all was not well with our world?

Was Margaret Cavendish revealing a truth about the world she knew about the 17th century and, hopefully, wanting others to know that all was not well in that world, too?

Questions upon questions upon more questions.

That’s what I love about the theatre.

Go and see ‘Mad Madge.’

Running time: approximately two hours and ten minutes with one interval/intermission.

‘Mad Madge’ runs until April 21 at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West, Toronto. For tickets:

A Nightwood Theatre production in association with VideoCabaret present
The World Premiere of MAD MADGE by Rose Napoli

Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Designed by Astrid Janson and Abby Esteireiro
Stage Manager: Hannah MacMillan
Production Manager: Maya Royer
Production Consultant: Pip Bradford
Sound Design: Olivia Wheeler
Lighting Design: Rebecca Vandevelde
Props and Wardrobe Build by Merle Harley
Costume Builder: Alessia Urbani

Performers: Rose Napoli, Karl Ang, Wayne Burns, Izad Etemadi, Farhang Ghajar, Nancy Palk

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