Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 6, 2011

Divine Rivalry

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through March 20, 2011
by Stacie Beland/Mark Axelson

Hartford Stage is currently offering a world premiere depicting "the greatest unknown event of the Renaissance" in "Divine Rivalry." The play, written by well-known political journalist Michael Kramer, is the author's first. It is a dramatization of presumably historical events, wherein Machiavelli pits the Master Leonardo against the much-younger, Divinely-inspired Michelangelo. The dialogue implies Leonardo and Michelangelo's rivalry; their best works showing examples of one-upsmanships.  Machiavelli, hoping to exploit this rivalry for his own political ends, serves as the pivot point for the unfolding events.

The show is well acted, with Simon Jones in his portrayal of Gonfaloniere Soderini reaching a level of nuance to his character that the other actors, perhaps due to the textual challenges of the work, cannot achieve. In playing Michelangelo, Aaron Krohn offers wonderful physicality and a youthful approach, necessary for the part. Similarly, Peter Strauss' Leonardo is aptly acted and appropriately incorporates an arrogance tinged with insecurity. Problematically, however, both actors suffer from difficulty in portraying the necessary passion which would drive two brilliant artists to become "Divine" advisories. Scott Parkinson's Machiavelli is emphatic and committed, giving some of the best punch line deliveries of the evening. To paraphrase one of his character's lines, "There are worse things in life than to be known as an adjective," and, unfortunately, his character is written to be reflective of just that-a typical Machiavellian politician, rather than a characterization of Machiavelli himself.

To be sure, the events portrayed are fascinating. Kramer has clearly done his research, and his depiction is a reflection of that-the show reads as one written by a journalist, rather than a playwright. The production has incredible potential and carries the possibility of being quite the captivating theatrical event. Hartford Stage should be commended for pushing the boundaries of live theatre and offering atypical works. Jeff Cowie's scenic design offers a wealth of possibilities, particularly when coupled with Robert Wierzel's lighting design. Peter Nigrini's production design and John Gromada's original music are all quite beautiful.  All in all, the show seems unfinished, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves.