What could be so funny in a play written nearly 500 years ago? Quintessence Theatre Group’s playful presentation of the absurd bravado, buffoonery, bamboozlement, and outright buggery employed at any length by a cast of characters in order to achieve their desires! Written by the infamous statesman and political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli while in exile, translated by Wallace Shawn, and directed by Alexander Burns, there is something for everyone to either laugh or balk at in this bawdy production of THE MANDRAKE.
The story evolves around an amazing web of crazy, convoluted, lecherous fabrications woven into action in order to satisfy the terrible yearning young Callimaco (Alan Brincks) has for Lucrezia (Emiley Kiser), beautiful nubile wife of the gullible old barrister Nicia (Gregory Isaac). Problem is, the young wife is not only hard to access because she is married, she is also very virtuous. No problem, Ligurio, wheedler and frequent diner at Callimaco’s place, has a solution. Nicia desperately wants a child, so Callimaco poses as a doctor and recommends that his wife imbibe a philter of mandrake root. Problem is, the first person that sleeps with his wife after she takes the potion will die. But wait, Ligurio comes up with further solutions that involve an additional false doctor, a friar, Lucrezia’s mother, yet another disguise for Callimaco, and so on, until after many twists, turns and tricks, everyone gets what they want in the end.
In the way of commedia dell’arte, the characters at times drop their figurative masks, speaking out and letting the audience in on the artifice. When Sean Close confides in this way, as Brother Timothy, he is diabolically witty. Alan Brincks gives lots of laughs and lusty gusto to Callimaco and Emiley Kiser blossoms wonderfully towards the end of the farce in her role as the lovely Lucrezia. Nicia is hilariously well wrought by Gregory Isaac, and E.Ashley Izard plays Lucrezia’s mother, Sostrata, sophisticated and sexy. Siro, servant to Callimaco, played by Connor Hammond seems sincere and finds sympathy with viewers, and Anita Holland, who plays the part of both a widow and a nymph, is strong in both. The play’s memorable prologue is performed with spunk by Jahzeer Terrell, who also plays a shepherd. Josh Carpenter is spellbinding throughout in his symbiotic portrayal of Ligurio as he maintains a posture reminiscent to that of a weasel, or other rodent-like creature; an almost Gollum-like parody with a gravelly nasal voice. There is lots of romping gesticulation, great pantomine and other marvelous madcap movement and dance (Janet Pilla Marini) and beautiful music (David Cope) throughout the show as well. The last dance is especially fun when the tempo does a surprise turn about.
The lovely antiquated three arch set (Alexander Burns), with paint in faded hues, which appears to be part of the building, is also used in the concurrent production Romeo and Juliet. Lighting (David Sexton) does many a duty, assisting in mood and focal changes. Period costumes (Jane Casanave) are splendid and work well with the action on stage.
In the midst of all the campy quips, schtick, cynicism and fraud, it is Ligurio who advises Callimaco to tell his love the truth of who he is if he truly wants to continue in a relationship with her. In this he is the voice of wise council.
[The Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Avenue] October 14-November 8, 2015; quintessencetheatre.org.