Back to the roots

La Mandragola

By Niccola Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Adapted by Bob Ost
Directed by Fred C.L. Mann III
West Side Repertory
Non-union production (closes April 5)
Review by Dudley Stone

Suspected of plotting against the Medicis, Niccola Machiavelli was given a few twists on the rack and exiled from Florence. Returning there from exile he was restored to favor and wrote La Mandragola (The Mandrake). The play (widely regarded as one of the great Renaissance plays) so charmed Pope Leo X that he had a theatre built so that the people of Rome could enjoy it.

The plot is simple. Old Lord Nicia, seeking a cure for his wife Lucrezia's sterility, asks a doctor for a remedy. Not realizing that the doc is his wife's aspiring lover, Callimarco, he agrees when the "doctor" prescribes mandrake root for the wife. The doc explains that this medicine will merely act as an aphrodisiac for the wife but will almost kill the first man to have intercourse with her after she takes it. Old Nicia has a great idea. He asks Callimarco to find a stranger to sleep with his wife, Lucrezia, and Callimarco arranges for - yes, you've guessed it, Callimarco - to be the lucky man.

The West Side Rep's production is an original adaptation by Bob Ost. Unfortunately, the language of the adaptation is a hybrid of the ancient and modern and is far less humorous than it should be. This is compounded by acting that is mostly below the usually high standards of the Westside Rep., which nevertheless merits praise for its consistently fine classical repertoire. The direction had the actors in constant motion all over the very small theatre space and lines spoken at breakneck speed, with little variation in pitch and pace. The production did have drive and energy, but it seemed unfocused. Some of the jokes were lost completely by poor delivery or timing and excessive mugging and indicating from some of the actors. A routine with a chamber pot went on far too long.

On the other hand, the costumes, by director Fred C.L. Mann III, were wonderful, and the set, by Dennis J. Eisenberg, quite lovely. Lighting, by William Kenyon, was quite acceptable. As Machiavelli, Richard Van Slyke was one of the few members of the cast with the appropriate style for this play, and his narration was suitably arch. Mike Peros, as Lord Nicia, worked hard and, at times, seemed to be acting for five, but he developed a definite comic character and got most of the laughs. Ivy Geneva Waller was an appealing and suitably innocent Lucrezia. Also featuring Dominick Costello, Marcia Iris Feldman, Jeff Dorau, Michael Tyler, Joe Fedor, and Carolyn Ledwith.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1

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Copyright 1998 Dudley Stone