Valentino: a play in verse

theatre · david wisehart and rachel stoll · Ages 12+ · world premiere · United States

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Review by CRAIG SHAYNAK
June 30, 2010

My overall impression

First of all, what amazing writing. Kudos to David Wisehart for his clever and complex script and to Rachel Stoll for recognizing a great new work when it came her way. It is one thing to write a play, quite another to write a semi-historical play and quite a larger task to write one in verse! I attended the closing night performance and what a great way to finish off my Hollywood Fringe.

While not all of the performers were comfortable with the verse, each was obviously earnest about getting the story across. While this lack of comfort sometimes drained some energy away from the text, the lead characters were all well cast. The more energetic and believable performances were given by Renato Biribin Jr. as Valentino, Spencer Hearne as Vitellozzo Vitelli, Lachlan McKinney as Ramiro De Lorqua and Anthony McPherson as the scheming Franceso Orsini. I commented to a friend that McPherson had a Shatneresque quality that, believe it or not, complemented his character nicely. Summer Dare Litwin’s forelorn Lucrezia Borgia and Sam Fleischer’s restrained Niccolo Machiavelli were also spot on.

The more succesful actors understood that in spite of the epic nature of the play, there were some very funny and clever turns of phrase in the script. “Take your leave and leave your take,” and “There is justice in this miscarriage,” and “He composeed for her… decomposed for me” were among my favorites. Worth noting is my favorite exchange which happened when Leonardo Da Vinci, played by the author, asks the Duke for some dead bodies:

“I need dead bodies.”
“What in heavens for?”
“Experiments. How many have you got?”
“A lot. And I can always make some more.”
“If you don’t mind, could I dissect their glands?”
“Please Leonardo, take them off my hands.”
“Duke Valentino has a gracious heart.”
“That organ I shall keep in my possession.”

A great bit of stage business also happens after this dialogue. Leonardo struggles to drag a body out. After a beat, Valentino’s right hand man drags both bodies out while the weak Leonardo follows him offstage. Wisehart’s inclusion of comedic bits like these takes a potentially heavy script and lightens it up. I loved the stage combat and wished there were a bit more. It was energetic and scary and brought the danger home to the audience. The sets and costumes were brilliantly simple using only a few pieces of furniture to convey grand halls and colored sashes to identify clansmen. Even if this production were not on the Fringe, I would have appreciated the simplicity.

I spoke with the author and producer after the show and learned that there had been cuts in the script. I think with this text restored, some of the plot may be more clear to those who are not familiar with the verse. I look forward to seeing this piece again in a larger venue with the full text and with a mature cast delivering David Wisehart’s strong script.

On a side, note, if you doubt that great minds think alike, tune in to HBO this coming year for “The Borgias” which tells the story David Wisehart has spent the past three years weaving into “Valentino: a play in verse.”

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