Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli is most widely known for his work "The Prince" and its praise of political deception, ambition, and brutality. Machiavelli may seem like an unlikely author for a bawdy romantic comedy, but his views on power and leadership are surprisingly and humorously applicable to this story of worldly love.
Alan Brincks plays young Callimaco, a student who comes to Florence with his faithful servant Siro (Connor Hammond) to see the famously beautiful Lucrezia (Emiley Kiser). Of course seeing is not enough and when we meet Callimaco he is being driven mad by his desire to bed the great beauty. Brincks does a spectacular job as the frustrated lover, lustily thrusting in the direction of his problems. Callimaco enlists the help of scheming Ligurio (Josh Carpenter) to convince Lucrezia's husband that she must drink a mandrake potion to become pregnant, even though the first man to have sex with her afterward will die. The decidedly impious Brother Timothy (played by the very funny Sean Close) and even Lucrezia's mother Sostrata (E. Ashley Izard) help pull off the ridiculously circuitous plan.
Gregory Isaac takes on the role of foolish Lord Nicia, the pompous lawyer who is tricked into becoming an enthusiastic participant in his own cuckolding. Isaac is hilarious, getting big laughs for the physical comedy and toilet humor (there is literally a bed pan bandied about the stage) as well as the more witty repartee.
The seemingly endless deceptions and manipulations Ligurio uses to further his own interests would make him the villain of any other play, but in Machiavelli's world he is a kind of hero. Josh Carpenter does a superior job as the scheming facilitator, skin crawlingly creepy yet strangely irresistible as he seems to invite the audience to conspire in the deception he orchestrates. The rat-like pose Carpenter maintains throughout the performance does become distracting at times. It looks like he has been challenged to maintain the same stance and hand positioning throughout as part of a training exercise. His already solid performance would be improved if he loosened up. (It seems possible that the same trickster challenged Brincks to keep his hands on his hips and Hammond to remain in a deep squat for the duration of the performance.)
Emiley Kiser does an admirable job as Lucrezia, playing earnest straight-man for much of the play and effecting a delightful transformation for the final scenes.
The musical interludes, performed by the entire cast in the style of a classical chorus, are clever and charmingly upbeat. It's lots of fun to watch, and composer David Cope is clearly a great asset to the production.
The Quintessence Theatre Group's The Mandrake runs through November 8, 2015, at The Sedgwick Theater 7137 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. For more tickets and other information, visit www.QuintessenceTheatre.org or call 215-987-4450.