Jonathan Tindle in Maud - The Madness
(© Gerry Goodstein)
Jonathan Tindle in Maud - The Madness
(© Gerry Goodstein)
If you ever jokingly say "Come into the garden, Maud" when inviting someone to join you at an activity, you're reciting verse written by the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Jonathan Tindle and Niegel Smith have not only scrutinized the venerated wordsmith's 1855 poem Maud with the hawk's eye but have taken seriously Tennyson's description of it as a "monodrama" and turned the crackling narrative into an 80-minute theater piece entitled Maud -- The Madness. Tindle performs it in an undertaking so unexpected and daunting that the very attempt stops you in your tracks -- even if the challenge Tindle has given himself is ultimately too demanding to be entirely successful.

Throughout Maud, the unnamed narrator is isolated in a country glade where he's ruminating on his father's death as a result of a swindle perpetrated by the father of the eponymous Maud. Still, the distrait 25-year-old, now impoverished as a result of the heinous act, is in love with the blithe (or perhaps scheming) Maud. Nonetheless, he fears she's become engaged to a titled visitor chosen by her haughty, ambitious brother.

Because the poem was written during the calamitous Crimean war, the narrator is also fixing on the relative values of bellicosity and serenity. He's parsing the dark aspects of life as well as unrequited love. Perhaps those grave concerns are enough to make any sane person assume he's just crossed the line into insanity.

Sounds relatively straight-forward, no? Maybe it was to Victorian ears. Today, Tennyson's language feels dense, his placement of details often oblique. His reflecting on personal and societal tensions might be quite relevant to contemporary global conditions, but the Victorian sensibility is less so. Anyone reading the poem today is obliged to examine the text slowly in order to follow the narrator's train of thought, and I'm not at all convinced that this Maud is graspable in a single listen to someone not thoroughly acquainted with Tennyson's text.

Yet Tindle, who acts Tennyson's playlet with every febrile fiber of his being, clearly believes it is. Discovered bolting from sleep on a Victorian side chair, he starts the monologue with a deliberately halting pace and a wild look. From then on, he's in perpetual motion -- sometimes falling to the floor, at one point even belly-flopping on it. There's no question that the pale, rail-thin actor beautifully renders the wavering between lunacy and mere frustration manifested by a man whom the vagaries of a country in crisis are buffeting. Eventually, though, the emoting is repetitive, and the story sinks under the weight of Tindle's unrelenting workout.

Helping Tindle sustain the changeable mood as long as he does is Clint Ramos' all-white set, littered with single sheets of paper and the occasional pile of papers. Peter West's ever-shifting lighting design and Elizabeth Rhodes' unobtrusive sound design and original music are also invaluable to the enterprise. While these talented designers have created a fantastical garden where you want to linger a while, the audience may nonetheless come to agree with Tennyson's line, "I feel with thee the drowsy spell."