Theater review by Adam Feldman
Mark Rylance is mad talented, and it’s enjoyable to watch him step up to battiness in Farinelli and the King. Written by his wife, Claire van Kampen, this candlelit drama is inspired by the story of 18th-century Spanish monarch Philippe V, whose insanity was reportedly eased by the eerie voice of the castrato opera star Farinelli. In Van Kampen’s cleverest device, Farinelli is often played by two performers at once: The appealing Sam Crane acts the part, while the gifted countertenor Iestyn Davies sings it (at most performances). As the public Farinelli floats through Handel arias, the private one stands beside him, a mutilated man estranged from his performative perfection.
Davies’s singing provides most of the high notes in this otherwise workmanlike play. The nature of the central musical therapy is barely explored; instead, we get contrived court intrigue, low comedy about English theater, a rushed quasiromance and an equally hasty coda, delivered in a steady march of flat-footed exposition. “I’m telling you this as the King’s chief minister,” says the King’s chief minister. “As the King’s doctor, I am of the opinion that the King’s illness has turned,” says the King’s doctor. "As the King’s second wife I am unpopular," says the queen (a bland Melody Grove). The pleasures of John Dove’s production—the music, Rylance’s halting propulsion, Jonathan Fensom’s sumptuous sets and costumes—gleam to no purpose, real jewels glued to a trinket crown.
Belasco Theatre (Broadway). By Claire van Kampen. Directed by John Dove. With Mark Rylance, Sam Crane, Iestyn Davies. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission. Through March 25.