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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

Politicians are your servants, not your masters. — Louis XIV

The above quote from a 23-year-old French monarch later called The Sun King sounds like the naïve observation of a very young king. He believed it in the 17th century we want to believe it now. That’s why this parable of power, which the young King learns by aping his fascinating Finance Minister Nicolas Fouquet, retains its ironic truths today.

Nick Dear’s political comedy, first done at London’s Royal National Theatre, is directed by McKerrin Kelly with sardonic passion and flair at Theatre Banshee. It centers on the King’s coming of age, as he learns about women and power from his sophisticated mentor who is o well liked by the royal family. This includes the King’s powerful mother, Anne of Austria, who claims she repressed his brother Philipps’s masculinity so that Louis would never be tempted to murder him; Philippe, called Monsieur, and his frustrated English wife Henriette, sister of Charles II of England. We also meet Colbert, strait-laced assistant to Fouchet who ultimately organizes the evidence of corruption that brings him down, and Louise de la Valliere, the beautiful maid of honor who becomes the married king’s true love. "The purpose of a wife is to remind you of what you’re missing" Fouquet reminds him.

Although the family all love Monsieur, who floats through life like a lace-trimmed cloud, Louis finds the perfect job for him. Monsieur is asked to codify the elaborate French code of manners and Louis enforces this code by forcing all the coutiers to live at Versailles where he can keep an eye on them.

Dear traces Louis’s maturity as a person who casts himself in the mode of his brilliant and artistic mentor but Fouquet cuts his own throat when he invites the King and 6,000 of his closest friends to a fabulous entertainment at his magnificent new estate, Belle-Isle. The evidence of Fouquet’s embezzlements was blazingly clear and the deposed minister spent the rest of his life in prison. Near creates a final scene between King and Minister, in which Louis says he will make improvements. "You will not make improvements,quot; roars Fouquet, quot; you have no STYLE!"

Dear sticks close to historical facts but illuminates them with his own satiric humor, playing on the irresistible attraction of greed and how it warps human relationships. The play is driven by a scintillating central performance from Matt Foyer as Fouquet. He seems to mimic the courtly courtiers’ bow, as if he’s mocking them while beating them at their own game. In his last scene with Louis, he shows a touching vulnerability. It profits him nothing and it’s to the credit of young Steve Coombs as Louis that he displays the authority and force to hold the stage playing against such a dazzling actor.

Casey Kramer has a power all her own, well remembered from her Mag in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Celtic Arts Center. She can make a simple query like "What are you talking about?" paint a picture. David Pavao plays Monsieur Philippe as written, more feminine than a woman, very funny. One misses the flashes of anger and vulnerability Foyer produces but Pavao’s flair for comedy is assured. Lesley Kirsten Smith is an elegant Henriette, struggling with her role in life. Jason Tendrell plays Colbert and Andra Carlson the ingénue Louise.

Arthur MacBride creates an excellent scenic design, featuring a revolving center piece on the Banshee’s small stage that reveals the actors, easing them into our consciousness. Power is an evocation of a period where corruption is colorful and passions are royal but it’s central theme, that Louis rules by exceeding the mirror image of his mentor, is echoed in the timeless similarities of today’s power


Playwright: Nick Dear
Director: McKerrin Kelly
Cast: Casey Kramer (Anne), David Pavao (Philippe), Steve Coombs (Louis), Lesley Kirsten Smith (Henriette), Matt Foyer (Fouquet), Jason Tendell (Colbert), Andra Carlson (Louise)
Set Design: Arthur MacBride
Costume Design: Laura Brody
Lighting Design: Michael Mahlum
Sound Design: Mark McClain Wilson
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: July 13-August 19, 2007
Where: Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia, Burbank, Reservations: (818) 846-5323
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on July 22, 2007.
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