This is kind of a cute idea – first-century lovers whose bond is so powerful that it compels them to reappear again and again over the next two thousand years in the Eternal City, notwithstanding war, heartache and death. Regrettably, the writing is so lame, and the acting is so miserable, that this production manages to transform the Eternal City into Interminable Town.
What do I mean? Young Romans Octavia (Allison Plourde) and Marius (Alex Bastani) are awash in sweet, sweet love, but Marius must leave to fight in England. Oh, no, Marius, stay, Octavia cries, but Marius must push on. Bad choice, Marius. Soon we are in 8th-century Rome, and Marius, an aide to Pope Leo III, is again in love with Octavia, but off he goes to fight the Iberians. He gets it in the chin again. He reappears as an apprentice to Michelangelo in 1541; as an Italian revolutionary in the 19th century, as an innocent victim of Nazi brutality in 1942, and as a 2003 English journalist who, after falling in love with Octavia the American Art Historian, goes to Iraq, where he is promptly kidnapped.
It is a lazy playwright (Rachael Bail) who writes the same scene over and over again and presents it as a complete play. Moreover, the dialogue is full of whoppers and clunkers. “Mazzini is a writer,” explains one of the revolutionaries (Meghan Nelson). “He writes with words.” Marius the painter’s apprentice and young swain of Octavia stands next to her in 1541 recalling his days helping Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, but the Sistine Chapel was completed in 1512, which means that Marius is pushing fifty. Mario the English Reporter manages to get a Catholic Church wedding on one day’s notice, a practice prohibited by the Church except under limited circumstances, none of which apply here. Throughout the play, references to history, some of which are doubtlessly correct, are inserted gracelessly into the dialogue.
Heroic acting and a heroic production can sometimes redeem bad dialogue. That’s not happening in this play. Plourde is called upon mostly for operatic bathos, but she delivers on cue, and might be a good actor with better material. Nelson also gives serviceable performances in several small parts. But Jay Branscomb and Jennifer Mayberry seem, respectively, disinterested and shrill; Aaron Lovett, who has a beautiful voice, is wooden and Patrick Hogan – well, the horribleness of his performance approaches a sort of grandeur. Suffice it to say that in the performance I saw he seemed to remember about half his lines, and one of his memorable omissions was a crucial line delaying a marriage of one of the Mariuses to one of the Octavias.
The most crucial disappointment is Bastani’s Marius, who manages to be robotic in six different centuries. He is meant to be idealistic, but he seems priggish; he is meant to be enraged, but he seems peevish; he is meant to be passionately in love with Octavia, but with her he acts like a child with a long-denied ice-cream cone. The final scene, where he is masquerading as a British journalist, caps off this remarkable non-performance: he has no English accent. What makes this even more frustrating is that the production had access to the playwright; if their actor was incapable of the dialect the playwright could have given him a different backstory.
And, as a coup de gras, the technical is just awful. In the middle of a gunfight, the sounds of gunshots stop, The Nazi must have put a silencer on his gun before he gut-shot Marius V. Marius then grabs his stomach preparatory to conducting an extensive interview with his assailant. I half-expected Marius to say “that smarts!”
Ah, Rome, Rome…the glory that was Greece…the drek that was Rome…
- Running time: 75 minutes
- Tickets: Thousands of Years – Rome
- Remaining Show: Sun, July 27 at noon.
- Where: Flashpoint, 916 G Street, NW