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The stories of the Russian master are woven into an odd clown show

Wednesday, Jun 20 2001
Like the movie Kafka, Gogol is not a biography of the writer in question so much as a mélange of his stories. Jason Craig and Sean Owens have mixed "The Overcoat," "The Nose," and "Diary of a Madman" in a blender and come up with a very strange clown show, with songs. Not everyone can do clown work, but luckily the cast includes Chris Kuckenbaker, who plays the pathetic, overcoat-obsessed civil servant, Akaky. He can do clown work, and his scenes -- posing in front of a mirror with a new coat, imagining himself rich and proud, or making tea by sticking a tea bag in his mouth and drinking from a kettle -- leave the clearest, most Gogol-esque impressions. The "Nose" segments involve a big, warty clown nose that gets clipped off by a barber and rediscovered in a loaf of bread; they interweave with Owens' oddly pretty songs as Aksenty, the madman. But a lot of the scenes play in a vaudevillian netherworld somewhere outside the stories, where clowns pop balloons in each other's faces and cruise around on roller skates. The wackiness is hard to sustain, even for 90 minutes, and David Malloy's excellent Russian-tinted score is not enough to save it.


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