A lacerating satire of the self-abnegating and dog-whipped Russian soul under the Czarist boot heel, Nikolai Gogol's 1834 short-prose masterpiece about a petty bureaucrat's dizzying plunge into the lowest depths of madness isn't exactly the stage-friendliest of texts. Which makes Ilia Volok's fevered and fascinating one-man turn as Gogol's delusional protagonist, Poprishchin, all the more remarkable. Gogol's tale essentially begins where the antihero of Dostoyevsky's later Notes From Underground leaves off — at a point where excruciating abasement and resentment have nowhere to go except into full-blown psychosis. In this case, it first manifests in the lowly clerk's megalomaniacal obsession for the bourgeois daughter of his bureau chief, an inkling of the irrational that is all too quickly confirmed when Poprishchin shadows the unwitting woman and carries on a two-way conversation with her dog for information about its master's feelings. From there, Gogol's slippery slope becomes so lubricated by dignity-destroying scenes of degradation and delusions of grandeur that Poprishchin's fate becomes a foregone conclusion. Volok delineates the delirium with a fierce yet finely modulated intensity, while director Eugene Lazarev's use of costuming to visually underscore Poprishchin's unraveling mind is a grace note to his otherwise spare but engaging production. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m., thru April 28. (323) 960-7770, plays411.com/madman.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: March 16. Continues through April 28, 2012