Ismail Kanater's self-created solo show, which he adapted from the story by 19th century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, arrives with the weight of past glories draped dramatically around it. Apparently, Kanater has been performing the show—which he also directed and produced—for more than 20 years, and the program cover is awash with quotes of glowing superlatives pulled from past reviews both local and from afar.
So maybe it's just that Kanater is a little tired now after two decades of portraying the mental crumblings of a civil service clerk who tried to gain a woman's attention and ended up incarcerated, insane, and suffering from delusions of grandeur—he believed he was the missing King of Spain. Maybe it was the script, which begins when this poor man is already hallucinating and clearly unstable, and quickly progresses to full-fledged lunacy, but which offered no backstory, explanation for his condition, or foundation for his obsessions. Or maybe that absent information was provided in the first 20 minutes, but I missed it thanks to the distraction of a few rude audience members who felt compelled to make multiple trips to the lobby and let bright outside light infest the small dark theatre. Whatever the reason, the result was an uneven production that lacks energy, requires crisper transitions and character changes, and tends toward self-important seriousness. One-man-band solo shows such as Kanater's are better served by an outside director who can provide a necessary objectivity and help limit the attendant craziness.
"Diary of a Madman," presented by Kan Ya Ma Kan (Once Upon a Time) at Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Blvd., Studio City. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. Jan. 28-Feb. 20. $12. (323) 492-0153.