Caligula, TinFish Theatre. The title role in Albert Camus’ 1938 four-act drama is one of the most demanding in modern theater. After the sudden death of his sister-lover, Drusilla, the emperor plunges into the depths of existential despair, realizing that the absurdity of death renders all human endeavors meaningless. Since everything is equally trivial, he decides to rule with the indifferent malice of fate, executing his subjects capriciously, closing the granaries to induce famine, raping women for sport. Monstrous in the extreme, Caligula is also a pathetic figure tormented not only by his grief but by the atrocities he feels he must commit in order to live a life of absolute freedom.

TinFish director Dejan Avramovich shows great ambition in tackling this play, but his lead actor is ill equipped: Joel Friend turns Caligula into a bratty show-off, neither deep nor affecting. Rarely a palpable threat, he doesn’t seem likely to inspire the trembling acquiescence we see in his subjects. And many of the supporting players are too green to bring Camus’ subtle poetry to life, making for a generally stiff, unconvincing production. The evening’s standout is Lisa Stran as Caesonia, Caligula’s mistress and apologist, faced with the impossible task of defending the emperor. She delivers a rich, human portrayal of a woman torn to shreds by the conflicting demands of her conscience.