Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Here is a review of "Coffee With Richelieu", that I saw at the Olney Theatre on the 11th. This review is lifted from

Is there a more entertainingly intellectual playwright working in the Potomac Region today than Norman Allen? I don’t think so. His latest mental exercise is a reward for any audience member who likes to use his or her brain precisely because Allen is so visibly having a ball using his. It has wit as well as humor, romance as well as sexuality, adventure as well as intrigue, all wrapped up in a package that draws gorgeous designs from the creative team and spirited performances from a superb cast of nine.

Storyline: The basic plot of Alexandre Dumas’ "The Three Musketeers" is the springboard for Allen. To start, he has the story of D’Artgnan’s introduction into the King’s service through the sponsorship of the swashbuckling trio Aramis, Porthos and Athos told by its villain – the Machiavellian Prime Minister in the court of King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu. But Allen invests the crimson frocked courtier with the ability to commune with historic personages of other ages. He brings the likes of Queen Victoria, Mahatma Gandhi and even Jacqueline Onassis to his table to discuss the different views of morality over a sip of mocha java or espresso.

The cast seems to be having just as much fun playing these roles as Allen had creating them. As D’Artagnan, the apprentice musketeer who is taken under Richeliue’s tutelage, Jerry Richardson’s eyes sparkle with delight and wonder at each new discovery (from his 17th Century perspective the concept of a skim latté made with the watery part of separated milk/cream is a horror). James Slaughter swaggers as Parthos and then swishes as King Louis XIII with mannerisms delightfully matching the gold and white costume Lonie Fullerton designed for him (complete with matching bows in his hair) .

Fullerton’s other costumes are a constant delight including the sparkling dress for Queen Anne, in the lovely person of Shannon Parks, and a gown with a hint of Cruella DeVille for Valerie Leonard who, as the cunning Milady makes the most of both the part and the costumes. Susan Lynskey is nicely attired for her main part – that of a lady in waiting who falls for D’Artagnan in a big way – but it is the capri pants and all the accoutrements for her fabulous scene as Jacqueline Bovier Kennedy Onassis (the name is "almost a complete sentence!") that stands out from the crowd. Lynskey’s droll delivery is so much fun that she got the first of a number of exit ovations that punctuated the opening night.

Paul Morella commands the stage as Richelieu and sets the tone for the evening from the moment he steps on Harry Feiner’s slightly skewed set. He acts as narrator as well as prime mover and delivers some of Allen’s pithier observations on morality, society, religion and human nature. From the very start his cynicism gives reason to ponder – the tag "Every man thinks the universe revolves around him. Some of us are right" is delivered with just enough of a knowing glint and followed by just enough of a pause to let its wisdom as well as its humor to sink in. He spends the rest of the evening as the audience’s guide through a fabulously entertaining exercise for the mind.

Written by Norman Allen. Directed by Jim Petosa. Design: Harry Feiner (set) Lonie Fullerton (costumes) Tom Sturge (lights) Dave White (sound) Charles Conwell (fight coordinator). Cast: Paul Morella, Jerry Richardson, Susan Lynskey, Valerie Leonard, James Slaughter, Shannon Parks, Bill Gillett, Christopher Lane, Scott Graham.