Tue Dec 16 2008
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
In a way, it’s fitting that Albert Camus’s WWII-era meditation on absolute power has been nearly overwhelmed by a single personality—in this case, that of director Rafael De Mussa, who also stars as the calculatedly capricious Roman emperor of the title. De Mussa’s Caligula cuts an athletic, anachronistic figure, gang-lording it over a well-drawn, vaguely 1930s realm of tuxes, champagne and muted-horn jazz (Peter R. Feuchtwanger contributes a very tall and evocative set).
Alas, De Mussa doesn’t speak as silkily as he moves; his thick Latin accent almost calls for subtitles. This isn’t just a jarring mismatch for some of translator David Greig’s Anglicisms (“bugger off,” “small beer”); it also garbles the almost Shavian flow of Camus’s dialogue, which rehearses the ever-timely existential debate: Is a world without gods necessarily a world without principles? As Caligula murderously tests the limits of his power, his subjects—led, naturally, by a clear-eyed, incorruptible writer (Quester D. Hannah)—struggle to resist morally as well as politically.
De Mussa’s distracting performance is the only seriously wrong note in this Horizon Theatre Rep production, which otherwise makes a lovely and compelling case for Camus’s cold-burning fervor and essential tragic vision. As the ruler’s henchman and mistress, respectively, Ben Gougeon and Romy Nordlinger expertly trace an arc from sickened complicity to a kind of bitter wisdom—an awakening Camus demands of us all.