French playwright Alfred de Musset’s “Lorenzaccio” has long been a fixture in French theater, but the 1833 play is seldom performed in the U.S. One chief reason, aside from its enormous cast, is the absence of an English adaptation that addresses its unwieldy structure. Consider the problem fixed in this nicely accessible version from writer John Strand, enjoying a classy production by the Shakespeare Theater. /B>
Set in 16th-century Florence, the play is loosely based on events surrounding the murder of the city’s notorious ruler, Alessandro de Medici, by his cousin, Lorenzino. The playwright was an unabashed admirer of Shakespeare, and his drama has always been compared with “Hamlet” with its overtones of vengeance and the depth of its lead characters.
Washingtonian Strand, who lived for a time in Paris, has taken a vigorous pen to the disjointed book he says was written to be read rather than performed, giving it a more chronological structure and made it conversational.
Artistic director Michael Kahn delivers a carefully measured production that accentuates the clearly relevant theme about a scorned political leader. He has cast in the prime roles two newcomers to the resident theater, Jeffrey Carlson (recently on Broadway in “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?”) and Robert Cuccioli (Broadway’s “Jekyll and Hyde”). Both hit the target with deft portrayals of complicated characters.
Carlson doles out equal amounts of sugar and acid as Lorenzo, the sycophantic servant who carefully protects his relative while plotting with romantic zeal to rescue the beleaguered city from his cruelty. He skillfully wears the twin masks of earnestness and treachery as the assassination plot winds its way to an unexpected conclusion.
Cuccioli revels in one of French theater’s most storied roles as the Duke of Florence, a man living in delirious ecstasy above the law. The character is deliciously without conscience as he commands women to his chamber and commits other dastardly deeds, merrily justifying his wanton behavior. One almost expects him to shamelessly pilfer Mel Brooks’ immortal line, “It’s good to be king!”
The two are supported by excellent cast members, too numerous to mention. The rest of the package also meets the theater’s high standards, notably in Ming Cho Lee’s arresting Renaissance set, Murell Horton’s opulent costumes and Howell Binkley’s varied lighting.
“Lorenzaccio” represents a welcome addition to American theater of one of France’s cultural pillars.