Saturday, April 02, 2005
"Mandrake" by Niccolo Machiavelli, a Renaissance sex farce in Milwaukee


I find many too many critics who write with the air of having far more
education, experience, insight than they REALLY have.

Mandrake is a complex play, with a twisted plot.  The director, recognizing
that he is "playing" to a "neighborhood/Boulevard" audience, with local
talent, Not an "elitist Boadway" audience, does Not over reach, but
simplifies it, updates it, and flavors it, making for a fun evening, even
for the critic!

Boulevard plays it too slick

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Damien Jaques
Journal Sentinel theater critic
April 1, 2005

The Boulevard Ensemble's new production of the Renaissance sex farce "The
Mandrake" is a reminder of the dangers of getting too cute with a piece of
theater. The play becomes lost amid the adorable and entertaining touches
that have been added to the original work.

"The Mandrake" opened in the Boulevard's cozy storefront performance space
Thursday night.

Niccolo Machiavelli, whose name became synonymous with shameless political
manipulation, wrote this play between 1512 and 1520. It was meant to be a
parody of the professional class in Florence, Italy and, not surprisingly,
features lying and scheming in the service of romance.

Everything about this tale of love is wrong. The subject of a young man's
amorous intentions is a married woman. A priest is bribed to counsel the
woman, in the privacy of the confessional, to sleep with the young man.

It's a twisting plot about twisted morals among the privileged in
16th-century Europe/Italy.

Director Jon Beidelschies has moved the Boulevard production into the
middle of the 20th century in New York's Little Italy. He has succeeded in
immersing the piece in Italian-Americana, beginning with the recordings of
pop crooners the audience hears as it settles into its seats.

The production actually starts with a slinky singer (Emily C. Zempel), who
is not a part of Machiavelli's cast of characters, singing the 1950s hit
"Mambo Italiano." She is joined by another addition to the play, a smartly
dressed woman portrayed by Chelsea Mayer, to provide some visual and
choreographic pizzazz.

The musical number is an entertaining and effective device to grab
theater-goers' attention, but it soon becomes apparent that the entire
production is laced with shtick. It is fun, candle-stuck-in-a-Chianti
bottle kind of stuff, but this is not what "The Mandrake" is about.

A more experienced and accomplished director and cast could conceivably
provide the clarity and focus that is absolutely necessary for staying on
track with this complicated story. Unfortunately, those essential elements
are missing here. As a result, we see some amusing individual performances
that are not connected in a unified, coherent production.

Colleen Couillard leads the way with an engaging portrait of the master
schemer Ligurio, who was written as a male by Machiavelli. The performance
has touches of commedia dell'arte and is certainly fun to watch.

Photo/Michael Sears: Callimaco (right), played by Joe Fransee, gives advice
to Siro, played by Dean Mantzavrakos, during rehearsal of a scene from the
Boulevard Ensemble's production of "The Mandrake." This production sets
Machiavelli's 16th-century play in mid-1900s New York City.

The ANNOTICO Reports are Posted and Archived at:
<< >> and
<< >>