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Fanfire Productions

at the Organic Lab Theater

I got that sinking feeling while thumbing through the program before the show. Under the headline, “Welcome to Fanfire,” were those phrases I’d come to fear: “improvisational method,” “group consciousness,” “alternative to theater as it exists today,” “multi-media,” and the never-before-encountered “multi-cultural ensemble work.” I was fully prepared to endure an adaptation of Machiavelli’s The Prince, but no one warned me that I’d be facing a comprehensive review of the failed theatrical experiments of the 60s. And without an intermission!

Too late. It’s time to strap yourself in for Facing the Prince. The lights reveal four figures draped in gauze. Someone (who lists herself in the program as Destiny Quibble) is churning musical gall from a synthesizer. The figures unwrap. They dance. They signify. They perform juvenile magic tricks. They pantomime. They wear sci-fi masks and strike majestic poses. And, with the help of slide projections, the audience is subjected to a shorthand history of Machiavelli’s rise and fall from power in early 16th-century Florentine politics. Hence, Machiavelli (played by Brooke Karzen) is thrown into rustic exile where he (she) writes The Prince.

That, unfortunately, is only the prologue. Now the play jumps to a modern corporate milieu, you know, one of computerized, plastic, programmed, data-based representatives of the military/industrial complex. Still, Machiavelli lingers in the background, and tidbits from The Prince are acted out in this modern setting. Get the point? See Dick run.

At this point, the improvisational method bears its most overripe and feckless fruit. There are three episodes of a game show parody called Pretty for a Day. Consuelo Allen (who also plays the efficiency expert, Nina Dici) does the worst Tammy Bakker impression in recent memory. There’s a slide show and voice tracks of famous politicos such as Nixon, Idi Amin, Jane Byrne, George Wallace, and more bozos than you care to recall. There’s more, too much more, and it all transpires without any sense of progress, or even an end in sight.

One, count em, one skit actually makes its point with something approaching creativity or a sense of humor. The point thus illustrated is the quote, “A prince must keep up appearances.” Michael Svedman and Consuelo Allen model the corporate image on a runway, imitating the poses of magazine ads that are projected on either side of them. Then the pace picks up and they have to make fast changes, and the clothes get more absurd, and, well, it was funny. Really. I guess you had to be there, but I don’t advise it.

Finally, the ensemble puts their masks back on and returns to the 16th century for the epilogue. More bad music, more pantomime, and more of the most ludicrous choreography this side of a third-grade Montessori class. This time, Machiavelli returns to Florence after the fall of the Medici, with his famous manuscript in hand, seeking reinstatement. But now he’s considered a threat to the republic and, in a tableau stunning only because it signaled the end of the play, his manuscript is scattered like fallen leaves. As bitter as Machiavelli’s failure must have felt, at least he didn’t have to sit through Facing the Prince.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Toba Zaritsky.