Review: The Man of Destiny by The Archive Theater Company
by David Glen Robinson
The Archive Theater Company is staging George Bernard Shaw's The Man of Destiny at Pioneer Farms in far north Austin. The company’s second production, following last year’s Cyrano de Bergerac, is another reputation builder, an exceptionally well produced play with a historical focus, featuring period music performed live. The company founded by Garrison Martt and Jennifer Rose Davis has established a very distinctive esthetic that emphasizes vivid language and period costuming. In Austin only The Hidden Room Theatre comes close to this distinctive approach, and the company of The Baron’s Men has a similar orientation. The Archive's creative conjunction of arts fields is on full spectacular display at the stark but entirely appropriate setting of a graceful shed-like struxture at Austin’s historical Pioneer Farms.
The Man of Destiny is one of Shaw’s early plays, written perhaps in 1895 but not performed until 1897 in London. Wikipedia calls the play as short curtain raiser with four characters, and indeed, playing time is just over an hour. Shaw takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Italian Campaign of 1797, when the victorious Napoleon proved his mettle to his Republican ruling committee in Paris but was still years from wielding the sceptre of despotic control of France. In that moment full of potential, whither Napoleon? And whence the mysterious lady guest in the inn at Tavazzano, Italy, the setting of the play?
The action of the play is a series of sharp dialogues between Napoleon, the mysterious lady, a lieutenant, and the tavern keeper, sharp as only Shaw can make them. They interact in the dining hall of the tavern, the event hall of Pioneer Farms, configured in the round with tables and dining boards all around. The audience figures in the play as tavern diners enjoying Archive Theatre’s spread of Italian and French delicacies with appropriate beverages, all for sale at reasonable prices.
The company's actors are exceptional, line-perfect, with elocution as sharp as the script. Michael Rodriguez is Napoleon, Maggie Thompson his adversary the Mysterious Lady by Maggie Thompson. Ryan Blakey is the foolish lieutenant and Stephen Cook is Giuseppe the tavern keeper. More violent than the Battle of Lodi, it seems, is the contest between Napoleon and the Mysterious Lady over purloined dispatches. Contained within them is a private letter, a love letter, but how did she know that? She instructs Napoleon convincingly that if unresolved, the matter will place his ascent to the leadership of France in jeopardy.
And here our plot thickens. Wikipedia and Shaw describe Man of Destiny as a play with four characters -- but a cast of six scrambles about Archive Theatre’s tavern stage. How can this be? The extra performers are the tavern staff -- Maria, played by Svetlana Koutseridi and Luca, played by John Michael Hoke. Jennifer Rose Davis has a program credit for Translations/Additional Scenes. Can it be that Jshe's has written patched out the redoubtable GBS with these additional characters? And why?
Granted, the answer is obvious. The two,brother and sister, bring a world of comedy into the show. They tease and dissemble, perhaps improvisationally, and toward the end perform an energetic waltz or polka in celebration. Additionally, John Michael Hoke as Luca performs a “fraidy-cat” dance all over the floor in terror of the witch his employer sends him to find in the back rooms. That cartoon dance wearing Napoleon’s hat is a fine amusement. Hoke’s physical comedy talents could and should be written into any number of plays. He's also credited as Stage Manager/Fight and Dance Choreographer. No need to challenge that. His work is well done.
The choice of the alternative space of the Pioneer Farms meeting hall is excellent . Oddly, the open crib wooden ceiling of the hall gives the hall excellent acoustics, and the clatter of hard-soled shoes and boots on the hardwood floor does not overwhelm the clear lines delivered by the actors or the beautiful music of Howard Burkett’s ensemble. The lighting design by Tara Bonds features strands of lights around the hall, but the tech nevertheless allows instantaneous black-outs at the ends of the acts.
One must not fail to mention the excellent period and near-period costumes of the show, from the military uniforms of the soldiers to the garb of the back-kitchen tavern staff. Jennifer Rose Davis and Star Maddox did the costume design, and were assisted by a host of stitchers.
The Man of Destiny is recommended to all; the show is especially family-friendly and offers an hour of historical teaching moments, along with lavish entertainment, delicious food, remarkable music. And the list goes on . . .
February 07 - March 01, 2020
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr
Austin, TX, 78754
A limited run of THE MAN OF DESTINY by George Bernard Shaw, a comic drama about an epic battle of the sexes between a young Napoleon Bonaparte and a Mysterious Lady set in the romance and danger of 18th-century Italy, will be presented as a co-production of The Archive Theater and Pioneer Farms at 10621 Pioneer Farms Drive, Austin, Texas 78754.
Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. February 6 - 29, 2020. There is no show on Sunday February 16. Special low-cost Educational Performance Thursday February 20, 2020 at 1 p.m.
Tickets to THE MAN OF DESTINY are $25 each for General Admission, $20 each Seniors, and $15 each for Students and Groups of 6 or more which can be purchased by E-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more and purchase tickets online, please visit thearchivetheater.org or call 512.923.2387.
The running time of THE MAN OF DESTINY is approximately 75 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. For production pictures and video visit: https://www.thearchivetheater.org/the-man-of-destiny