Sunday, May 16, 2010

Off Off Broadway: The Man of Destiny

It may be true or it may simply be an urban myth that upon his death, Napoleon's penis was surgically removed and discovered to have been quite small. If true, that might provide some Freudian explanation for the extraordinary ambition that characterized his life and, if true, it would suggest that Napoleon also might better have joined Father Shaunessy's support group for men with small penises - the group at the center of the play The Irish Curse which I was fortunate to have seen yesterday and which I reviewed on this blog in a very positive post right after seeing it - than to have appeared in this production of The Man of Destiny.

For any way you slice it (no pun intended), Napoleon surely would have been treated more kindly as a member of the group in The Irish Curse than he was in the play I saw today: The Man of Destiny by George Bernard Shaw presented as a Wild Project production by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble in Manhattan. This play of Shaw's is infrequently performed and I think I understand why. It is really not up to the level of most of Shaw's work. Of course, saying that one of Shaw's plays is not on a par with the rest isn't to say that it's bad. Shaw was such a literary genius that even his weaker works were considerably better than most playwrights' best. But I do not think that The Man of Destiny can be considered in a class with the main body of his work.

The story line in The Man of Destiny is rather simple. Napoleon (Josh Tyson) is awaiting the receipt of a packet of letters that should contain information enabling him to improve his military chances against the Austrian army with whom he is at war. The letters are stolen by a man who turns out to have been a woman in drag (A Lady, played by Amy Fitts) and Napoleon must retrieve them. Some typical Shavian banter ensues between Napoleon and A Lady, and Shaw takes every opportunity to ridicule and mock both the English and the French. There is also, of course, a bumbling junior officer (The Lieutenant, played by Brian A. Costello) and a subservient innkeeper (Giuseppe, played by Craid Smith). All pretty standard stuff.

Of course, it may also be that this was just a poor productions of an otherwise estimable play and that the primary reasons for its having been disappointing rest with its director and cast. I can't say for sure because I have never seen a different production of this play. To be sure, I was not very impressed with the individual performances in this production (with the exception of that of Craig Smith) but I also must admit that I have seen other performances by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble which have impressed me. In particular, No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre which I saw last year at the Phoenix Theatre comes to mind as having been a memorable production. (But, come to think of it, the only actor who was in that and also in The Man of Destiny was the talented Craig Smith who did a commendable job in both productions, so perhaps the cast and/or the direction of The Man of Destiny contributed to the shortcomings of this production as much as did the playwright himself.)

In any event, today is the last day of this play's run at the Phoenix theatre so if you haven't seen it yet, you won't be able to. But don't let that bother you: you're not really missing anything.

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