Review: “The Mandrake” at Havana Restaurant’s Gallery Theatre

Ends October 11.Tickets: $20 cash at the door.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1465730927025589/?ref=5

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Niccolo Macchiavelli, like many authors, is talked about more than his works are actually read. We know the adjective “Macchiavellian”, referring to a particularly deep form of cunning when it comes to organizational politics. A few have even read Macchiavelli’s “The Prince”, a work of political philosophy. But many fewer are aware that Macchiavelli was also a playwright, and “The Mandrake” demonstrates in dramatic form, how to scheme in a Macchiavellian fashion.

This production features two actors, a man and a woman. The stage is bare except for a collection of coats and jackets on a couple racks. You are likely familiar with a one-person show where one actor plays numerous characters. This show features two actors playing various characters, but the characters are not matched by gender, and each character does not “belong” to either actor. Thus, for example, the innocent young Lucretia is played, and convincingly, both by the male and female actor, with a white lacy shawl and a particular speech pattern serving to identify her. Vancouver has seen some very interesting gender-bending theatrical productions of Shakespeare lately, and it’s interesting to see how this concept is done with Macchiavelli.

Macchiavelli precedes Shakespeare by more than 50 years, ,and his world was Medici Florence, rather than Elizabethan England. But, no doubt, you will think of Shakespeare when you see the flimsy disguises and the outlandish plot. Yet somehow, these, like in Shakespeare, do not ruin things at all.

The liquidly smooth transitions that the actors make between the characters is what makes this play work so well. And, I couldn’t help think of another Shakespeare aphorism, “Clothes make the man”,

As an aside, the mandrake is a plant with poisonous properties that has been used as a fertility potion since at least the time of the ancient Israelites (it’s mentioned in the Bible).

This is a well-done and originally presented production of a play that we are very unlikely to see for a long while. I recommend it!

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