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Fringe Review: As Rome Burns

By Barbara Popel on June 19, 2016

63 min | Drama | Mature

Nicholas Dave Amott’s new play, As Rome Burns, is about the rehearsal of a play concocted by the mad emperor Nero. His play is about his imperial family’s history and himself. It’s being rehearsed by a few of his loyal slaves in the home of a Christian slave whom Nero has freed. Nero is hiding there from the Praetorian Guard and the Roman populace, who are bent on assassinating him. Nero (smoothly played by Amott) is certain that if he can appeal to his people’s ability to see beauty and truth by presenting this play, he’ll deflect their anger against him. “My performance is my final appeal,” he says. He is, of course, deluded in this belief, but the play-within-a-play and his interactions with the slaves provide ample opportunity to reveal Nero’s madness.

There are many notable aspects of this very professional production.

The director, Brennan Richardson, has garnered uniformly excellent performances from the cast of five: Amott (Nero), Sam Dietrich (the eunuch Sporus), Lawrence Evenchick (Claudius and Seneca), Victoria Luloff (Nero’s mother Agrippina and his wife Poppeaea Sabina), and Brennan Richardson (Phaon and Marcus Salvius Otho). The actors who are playing multiple roles (including roles within Nero’s biographical play) are adept at character transitions. Though all the actors were praiseworthy, I’d like to single out Evenchick. He is commanding and credible as the Stoic philosopher and Nero’s tutor/advisor, Seneca

Beautiful simple masks (designed by Brennan Richardson), costumes (Maureen Russell and Richardson again), and make-up (Annie Lefebvre) all complement the actors’ skills.

The brief fight scenes with real looking swords are thrilling and believable. Kudos to Brennan Richardson, the fight master.

Glenn Worton’s simple set is effective. It is augmented by Amott’s sound design and Rachel Worton’s lighting and stage management.

All these theatrical aspects work well to support a sometimes histrionic (this is, after all, Nero) reveal of the tortured personality of one of the most infamous tyrants and egoists in history. Nero says, for example, that the duty of a leader is to “make it better or at least make it pretty.” Bread and circuses, indeed. Is Seneca right when he says, “There is no greatness without some madness”?

In all, As Rome Burns is a fascinating, polished drama that is well worth seeing.

As Rome Burns by Nicholas Dave Amott is playing in Studio Leonard-Beaulne on Saturday June 18 at 9:30pm; Sunday June 19 at 1:00pm; Wednesday, June 22 at 11:00pm; Friday June 24 at 8:30pm; Sunday June 26 at 3:30pm. Tickets $12.