Machiavelli (Michael Scoggins), considered the father of modern political science, was a courier/spy in the House of Borgia and was a secretary to Cesare Borgia (Len Donato), who tried to establish a hereditary monarchy in Central Italy during the papal reign of his father, Rodrigo.
Cesare’s sister, Lucrezia Borgia (Taylor Donlan), who was known both for her beauty and wickedness, is also Machiavelli’s lover in Stevens’ work.
The play, based on the journals of Machiavelli, chronicles the murder, intrigue and mayhem of the Borgia regime, including Lucrezia’s marriages, two of which ended in annulment and murder. Throughout, Machiavelli serves as the Borgias’ loyal adviser, even as he spies for the Florentine Council of Ten and logs their story for posterity.
This is rich and challenging material, as Machiavelli dutifully records the duplicity and wickedness of the powerful while he himself is caught up in the web of political intrigue and deceit.
The play might be more suitable for a television production, which could sustain the breakneck pace of the many scenes. However, as theater, this commendable effort falls short in several ways.
First, it never touches the emotional center of the characters, who often seem flat andwooden. In addition, the play never fixes on a clear point of view. Machiavelli narrates the action but never fully reveals either his emotions or the acute perceptions that informed his writings in “The Prince.”
Playwright/director Stevens, who has lengthy credits in film and TV and on Broadway, seems to hold back somewhat, recounting the story but not fully committing to a specific emotional and intellectual perspective on his characters and stories. Perhaps the script can be reshaped into a more forceful and fully realized piece.
The acting is generally good, though all the actors seem hampered by the sparse, clipped script, which gives them little opportunity to develop full dramatic moments. Donlan is wicked and beguiling as Lucrezia, Scoggins is convincing as Machiavelli and Donato is strong, though somewhat one-note, as Cesare.
Costumes by Leiza Schmidt are magnificent, as the characters’ multiple entrances become a virtual fashion show.