By Nick Dear. Dir. James Bohnen. With Steve Haggard, David Darlow, Annabel Armour. Remy Bumppo.
Apparently, if Nick Dear had written Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, he would have called it Marriage. The categorical title of Dear’s Restoration-style study of French history aside, there are few didactic moments to be found here. Instead, the court of the young Sun King becomes witness to a set of intrigues rivaling those of Les liaisons dangereuses. The serpentine Valmont role is played here by the courtier supreme Fouquet (Darlow), whose jaded outlook finds expression in flurries of eloquently smutty epigrams. While Fouquet’s colorless rival Colbert steadily prepares his downfall, the shrewish Queen Mother (Armour) struggles to control the respective skirt- and trouser-chasing of her sons Louis (Haggard) and Philippe. If the result seems too sluggish to exploit fully its farcical potential, it nonetheless shows off Dear’s gift for phrase-turning while providing a diverting lesson in French history.
Darlow’s role has striking similarities to his recent work in Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre, as his aging bullshit artist finds himself eclipsed by a young protégé. He powerfully conveys Fouquet’s tightrope act, simultaneously reveling in his power and aware of its tenuousness. Haggard’s Louis is a little wide-eyed, as though afraid he’ll be sent to the vice-principal’s office for dallying with chambermaids. But he ably handles the second act’s transition to a more formidable king. Power may not be the most significant production on a Chicago stage at the moment, but the elegant, restrained tone of James Bohnen’s direction and Tim Morrison’s design make it one of the smoothest.—John Beer