Shanley's hero is likewise a sufferer by nature, with a perpetual rage boiling inside him. His ending, though, is a triumph, because Shanley, who loves writing for the sheer pleasure of writing, has chosen a historical soul mate, a sly and determined fellow whose only interest is in creating the piece of art that will make him immortal. The evidence that Benvenuto Cellini succeeded is on display, most notably in Florence, where his towering Perseus with the head of Medusa is one of tourism's standard doorways into Renaissance sculpture. Shanley builds his drama, as Berlioz did his opera on the subject, toward the often retold story of the statue's perilous casting in one piecethe great risk for which the Duchess of Florence demands our respect. Berlioz made Cellini a neck-or-nothing Romantic, who duels and seduces up to the moment before the sculpture's casting, and throws his smaller works into the smelter when the bronze runs short.
photo: Carol Rosegg
Chris McGarry and Chad L. Coleman in Force Continuum: triggering tragedy.
By Kia Corthron
336 West 20th Street 212-239-6200
By John Patrick Shanley
307 West 43rd Street 212-246-4422
Shanley, a small-r romantic with a healthy streak of cunning, doesn't go overboard: For him, the work is everything. Cellini's love intrigues, brawls, rivalries, and fiscal chicaneries are all way stations on the road to fame through glorious achievement. "Nothing will be wasted," Cellini declares when a woman walks out on him; he uses her features for the Medusa. The historical Cellini probably preferred boys to women, but it's not important, the way Shanley's occasional factual or grammatical slips aren't important, because the version of history being told is so transparently personal, and so open-hearted, that quibbling would be pedantic. (Cellini, in his memoirs, fudged facts too.) Like Corthron, Shanley jumps from past to present, from visions to realities. With only one driving mission on his mindto transmit the love of creativityhis route is considerably easier to follow, plus having all the satisfaction happy endings provide.
As if to prove such endings live only in fiction, Shanley's director has put an almost nightmarish interference between us and this simple, joyous play. The actors, reasonably competent but not distinguished, have been asked to show their European-ness by sporting mamma-mia Italian accents, or a mamma-mia Italian notion of Frainch. Even Hollywood only employed Henry Armetta ("typecast as excitable, gesticulating foreigners"Halliwell) in one role per movie, and never as a Renaissance monarch. Shanley should fire this director; unfortunately, it's himself. The weird choice reveals a nervousness about dealing with the past that's never noticeable in the script, and doesn't hamper the staging in any other way. Adrianne Lobel has turned Second Stage's high ceiling into an elegant half-built basilica, and Martin Pakledinaz has neatly balanced doublets and gowns with modern-looking shirts and shifts. Reg Rogers, though not the dashingly brazen Cellini I'd prefer, makes a strongly focused, energetic stab at the marathon-length role; it's his best work to date. If I demand more, it's only because I have so much respect for what's there already.