Heidi Trautmann

886: 14th Cyprus Theatre Festival - Grand opening with Genco Erkal and the Diary of a Madman

By Heidi Trautmann


Right in the middle of Cyprus’ and worldwide uncertain times the 14th Cyprus Theatre Festival had its grand opening and as usual the auditorium of the Atatürk Cultural Centre at the Near East University was packed full. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Where is truth’. What is this question aimed at, I wonder. The media, the politics, economy, or the small margin between reality and ....theatre? Should we not all halt in and ask ourselves ...where is the truth of what we hear every day?


The first performance was not only a great performance with the unique actor Genco Erkal who was welcomed by a grateful audience, but also held a mirror up to us, to us as society. It is about public and private identity. I include here the plot summary and the actors profile.  

The little guy looked down on in his daily status as civil servant, comes home to his private rooms raging against the establishment in his diary, seeing himself misjudged. By the daily entries in his diary it becomes clear that he is descending into madness because the two identities do not match, he is stuck inbetween.

The emotions of the character that Genco Erkal goes through with the slow descent into madness are ...not acted but lived. A wonderful actor. Thank you!


Here the link to my announcement of the festival with all details.







Genco Erkal was born in Istanbul in 1938. He graduated from the Psychology Department at Istanbul University. Since 1959, he has been a part of many important theater groups. In 1969, Erkal founded the Dostlar Theatre and directed many plays, which were written by famous writers such as Gorki, Brechet, Sartre, Peter Weiss, Steinbeck, Havel, and Tankred Dorst as well as Turkish writers Aziz Nesin, Haldun Taner, Nazım Hikmet, Can Yücel, Refik Erduran, Vasıf Öngören, Orhan Asena and Behiç Ak. Erkal has adapted novels, stories and poems for his plays. He has taken part in several symphony concerts such as Prokovief’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale,” and Fazil Say’s piano work “Nazim” as well. Erkal has performed in many principal roles in Turkish films such as “At,” “Faize Hücum,” “Hakkari’de Bir Mevsim,” and “Camdan Kalp,” which were nominated and received many awards in important international film festivals. He directed and acted Haldun Taner’s musical “Keşanlı Ali Destanı” for TRT television. Erkal has received many awards such as “Best Actor of the Year” and “Best Theater Director. Between 1993 and 1998, he acted in many French plays such as Nazim Hikmet’s “Sevdali Bulut,” Philippe Minyana’s “Ou vas-tu Jérémie?” and “Simyaci,” which was adapted from Paulo Coelho’s famous novel in the Avignon Festival in Paris. In 2008, Erkal wrote and directed the documentary playwriting “Sivas ′93”. It have been staged in Turkey and Europe. He received the "Best Successful Actor of the Year" in the 15th Sadri Alışık Film and Theater Awards for his role in the "Marls′in Dönüşü."

Reference: mafm.boun.edu.tr; wikipedia.org

Plot summary and conclusions



The story centers on Arksenty Ivanovich Poprishchin, a low-ranking civil servant (titular counsellor), constantly belittled and criticized for underachieving. He yearns to be noticed by a beautiful woman, Sophie, the daughter of his boss, with whom he has fallen in love. As he said in his first sight of her, just after being a beast of a civil servant himself, “A footman opened the carriage door and out she fluttered, just like a little bird.” Nothing comes of this love he feels for her; Sophie is effectively unaware of him.

His diary records his gradual slide into insanity. As his madness deepens, he begins to "understand" the conversations of two dogs and believes he has discovered letters sent between them. The style of the letters, including what Poprishchin terms “dogginess” and “canine nature”, convince him of the letters' authenticity. The letters provide Poprishchin with a much more in-depth view of Sophie’s life, including her engagement to another man.

In “The Year 2000, 43rd of April”, it is made clear that Poprishchin has now gone mad. This diary entry is the first of many which he has lost the ability to distinguish a true sense of time. He begins to believe himself to be the heir to the throne of Spain. He decides to make a Spanish royal uniform so that the common people will recognize him. Believing himself in Spain, waiting for the Spanish deputies to arrive, he then decides that he is in fact in China. This trip is actually an appearance of his imagination that has been translated from being maltreated in an insane asylum.


Descent into madness

In the realm of the method of Gogol’s madness, the only possible approach that can direct the reader to contextualize and reflect on such a subject that lies beyond reason is to follow in the path of madness and allow ourselves to be misled.

Poprishchin’s descent into madness stems initially from his outlook on society. Poprishchin is unhappy with every aspect of his life and is envious of anyone who he believes has it better than he, which is essentially everyone. His desire to achieve the dignity and authority that he sees around him, but never feels, yields frustration rather than motivation. His lack of motivation causes Poprishchin to fantasize about having dignity and authority, instead of actively trying to work toward this achieving this goal in reality.[1]

Poprishchin’s relationship with three specific characters, the Director, the Section Chief and Sofi, contribute significantly to the downfall of his sanity. The Section Chief causes Poprishchin the most direct frustration through constant, yet legitimate criticism. Poprishchin responds to the Section Chief’s behavior with anger and aggression for trying to bring him into reality. The Director takes a much more passive role in affecting Poprishchin. Poprishchin actually idolizes the Director, a large part due to the fact that he remains distant from Poprishchin and never interferes in his personal life with comments or suggestions. Despite this initially peaceful relationship, Poprishchin finds a way to see a menace in the Director, mainly out of envy. Poprishchin notices that the Director has too muchambition, a quality that Poprishchin desires, but knows he cannot achieve in reality, and therefore turns his admiration of the Director into hatred. Sofi is a beautiful woman to whom Poprishchin has a strong sexual attraction. However, Poprishchin painfully discovers that Sofi finds him pathetic and ridiculous, and his inability to cope with this reality drives him further into madness. Interestingly, Poprishchin is enlightened about both the Director’s ambition and Sofi’s view of him from letters written by a dog. It is clear to the reader that the dog and letters are not actually real, but instead are fabricated from Poprishchin’s imagination, and represent the last bit of sanity he has. Expectedly, when Poprishchin is unable to accept what he learns from the letter, he destroys it. By destroying the letters, Poprishchin is detaching himself from the last bit of reality he had, ultimately marking the final step in his descent to full madness.[1]


One disruptive force contextualized is the relationship between the individual and society. As we allow Poprishchin to mislead us in his madness, we gain insight on the theme of alienation. His struggle allows us to contextualize his alienation from society through a lense set in the time and place of Diary of a Madman, but also to compare and contrast it with a more general sense of any alienation from society. Poprishchin’s alienation from society is strongly rooted to the way he perceives and treats people around him. Poprishchin sees a menace in everyone and always finds a way to blame others for his personal frustrations, and consequently treats them with the aggression he believes they deserve. This behavior fuels a vicious cycle that justifies the negative perception and treatment that the real world exerts toward Poprishchin.[1]

Public and private identity

The many illusions Poprishchin creates for his false reality are intended to improve either his public identity or his private identity. Power and dignity are the two most significant traits that Poprishchin fantasizes about. We see many attempts by Poprishchin to increase his power in his newspaper world by acquiring political rank, giving himself dominance relative to the general public and ultimately improving his public identity. This side of his fantasy is fueled by his desire of approval from others, a feat he can obviously not achieve in reality. Attempts to improve his private identity are synonymous with gaining dignity and self-respect - Poprishchin’s erotic fantasies are the primary result of this quest. Poprishchin does not feel love, but rather his feelings of humiliation and the need to assert himself serve as the main driver for his erotic fantasies.[1]


There have been many professional analyses on Poprishchin’s unique diary entries attempting to interpret their meaning, with special interest taken to the entry: 43 April 2000. A freudian analysis performed by Professor Ermakov deducted that Poprishchin used this absurd date to avoid May 13, because the word maja suggests majat’sja, which in Russian means suffering. Richard Gustafson’s analysis of the entry title is more grounded in the contents of the story. He agrees that Poprishchin is indeed trying to avoid May 13, but his reasoning for such is that the letters from the dogs that exposed the grave reality of Sofi and the Director were presented exactly half a year earlier on November 13.[1]



Juxtaposition is Gogol's ultimate method for presenting the distorted world in Diary of a Madman. The story juxtaposes the eccentric with the ordinary, the significant with nonsense, and ultimately reality with madness. Gogol's juxtapositions push the reader to have a complicated response to each of the story’s elements.[2]

Double perspective

It is important to note that Poprishchin’s transition from sanity to madness is not instantaneous, but rather can be tracked through a sequence of events. At each point during his descent to madness, the reader can see a fraction of his sanity being replaced with madness, ultimately revealing the double perspective of sanity and madness.[1]

Narrative perspective

Poprishchin dominates the narrative like no other Gogolian character. The 1st person perspective complements the themes Gogol is trying to display.


The show goes on and I am looking forward to see the other performances. See all information on the poster.

fm.left Mayor of Nicosia: Mehmet Harmanci and Kiymet Karabiber Head of the Festival Comité
fm.left Mayor of Nicosia: Mehmet Harmanci and Kiymet Karabiber Head of the Festival Comité

HE Mustafa Akinci included hope and peace in his welcoming speech
HE Mustafa Akinci included hope and peace in his welcoming speech

The grey eminence of the theatre thunders words of truth enthusiastically answered by the audience
The grey eminence of the theatre thunders words of truth enthusiastically answered by the audience

The last stage of the madman
The last stage of the madman

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