CALIGULA, Defiant Theatre, at the Griffin Theatre Company. In its press release Defiant Theatre claims that Albert Camus’ modernist masterpiece Caligula was “tainted” by Bob Guccione’s film of the same name, although from the celluloid evidence it seems unlikely that anyone connected with the film ever cracked the binding on Camus’ work. Defiant hopes its production “restores Caligula to its original depth and gravity”–despite director Richard Ragsdale’s decision to turn the Roman patricians into the Three Stooges and Caligula’s court into an almost nonstop sexfest. This production is closer in spirit to Guccione than Camus.

Which isn’t to say it’s completely off the mark. As a dark, campy fantasy of puerile indulgence it’s occasionally delightful: the petulant, pansexual emperor orders executions like imported chocolates. But after 45 minutes or so the production has little new to add, leaving Christopher Johnson as Caligula to repeat himself for the ensuing hour at higher and higher pitches. Too often Ragsdale confuses screaming with drama, nudity with artistic daring; one longs for less obvious, more nuanced choices. In the end, the company leaves unexamined the philosophical and political underpinnings that give Camus’ fable of a society reeling out of control such sobering richness.

–Justin Hayford