Playwright: Nick Dear
At: Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Victory Gardens, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
Phone: ( 773 ) 871-3000; $33-$38.50
Runs through: June 4
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
It's difficult to imagine what author Nick Dear had in mind when composing his biodrama of Louis the Fourteenth. ( For you slackers who slept through history class, that's the 'Sun King,' best known to theater buffs as Moliére's sponsor. ) Is it the story of a boy rejecting his amoral companions to assume his adult responsibilities? Is it a bittersweet lament for venerable elders roughly pushed aside by impatient youths? A parable of absolute power's corrupting influence? A portrait of a decadent sybarite, thwarted in his pursuit of earthly pleasure? And didn't Shakespeare, Peter Shaffer, Athol Fugard and Stephen Jeffreys already write those plays?
The facts offer no clue: Louis' hands-on approach to ruling over a country riddled with covert agendas—his decision to reduce his administrative staff and consolidate the royal command within himself ( proclaiming, famously, 'I AM the state' ) —undeniably made for a more unified governing body. His insistence on his subordinates conducting themselves in a circumspect manner—after their scandalous habits have ceased to be useful—certainly made for a more orderly society. What's missing is the loftiness of purpose we find in a Prince Hal or a Queen Victoria. This Louis employs his nefarious tactics, not out of determination to forge a better ( or safer ) reign, but out of petty jealousy and spiteful revenge on his dysfunctional mentors.
So what's the attraction in this nebulous portrait of an upstart brat who learns to be a bigger bully than those who threaten him? Not the—gasp!—dirty doings among the rich and famous, nor Rachel Anne Healy's high-calorie costumes, nor the giggles engendered by men in white wigs and beribboned pumps saying 'fuck.'
No, Steve Haggard's porcelain-complected Louis may get the top spot at curtain call, but the overwhelming audience favorite is David Darlow and his exuberant portrayal of the court celebrity upon whose accomplishments Louis forged his own image, the cultured and urbane Nicolas Fouquet. What do we care that this aging playboy's eloquent obsequies and voluptuary lifestyle are fueled by embezzled funds? We are charmed by his suave manners and implacable hedonism as immediately and unconditionally as playwright Dear obviously was.