Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Coffee With Richelieu
If you had the chance to have a conversation with any historical figure, would you take the opportunity? The infamous Cardinal Richelieu does exactly that in Norman Allen's new play, Coffee With Richelieu. Making its world premiere at the Olney Theatre Center, Richelieu delves into questions of humanity, honor and truth.
The real Cardinal Richelieu held significant power during the reign of France's King Louis XIII. Appointed to the office of Prime Minister in 1624, Richelieu was empowered by the King's good favor and used that power to his advantage. In the midst of his political machinations, Richelieu found time to indulge in his love of the arts and was responsible for founding the Acadamie Française. However, the Richelieu that many of us have come to know is the one immortalized in Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. This is the Richelieu that Norman Allen presents so eloquently.
Coffee With Richelieu acquaints us with the conniving cardinal and his distaste for the King's wife, Anne. As he schemes her downfall, he has another pet project in mind. His goal is to sway the young Musketeer in training, D'Artagnan, to see life as he views it - a world ruled by the monarchy but void of love and honor. All of this is played against the background of the swashbuckling heroics of the Musketeers.
As Richelieu carries out his manipulations, he "steps out of time" and moves to an alternate dimension, which consists of a coffee house where Richelieu can order the brew of his choice. However, Richelieu does not spend these coffee breaks alone. Along with D'Artagnan, he is joined by a number of notable guests such as Queen Victoria and Jacqueline Onassis.
These forays into an alternate dimension make for some of the most entertaining moments in the play. These scenes are rich with philosophical banter and a dry humor, which works particularly well for the Richelieu character.
As Cardinal Richelieu, Paul Morella is delightfully menacing. Yet, he also brings humanity to the role. One can't help but feel a twang of pity for this man who is alone in his ideals.
Jerry Richardson's D'Artagnan (seated at left, with Morella as Richelieu) is the picture of wide-eyed innocence. He is all emotion and raging hormones. His youthful exuberance and naivety work well at first. However, as the character becomes more complex, Richardson has trouble leaving behind the mantel adolescence. Nonetheless, he certainly holds his own against the rest of the cast, including veteran DC performer Valerie Leonard.
As Richelieu's partner in crime, Milady, Leonard exudes sexuality and plays the role with striking confidence. Bill Gillett, James Slaughter and Christopher Lane portray the Three Musketeers. With their fine swordplay and cocky manner, these three actors are just plain fun to watch. James Slaughter is particularly entertaining as both the adulterous Porthos and the rather foppish King Louis. Susan Lynskey gives another memorable performance. As D'Artagnan's ladylove, Constance, she is no wilting flower. Miss Lynskey gives us a liberated damsel! Lynskey also shows off her versatility during her portrayal of Jacqueline Onassis. Her performance is not quite over the top but she does display the slightest hint of camp. Jim Petosa's direction of this fine cast is fluid; the transition from reality to Richelieu's alternate dimension is never awkward.
The scenic design by Harry Feiner is simple at first glance, but as the show progresses his designs add to the texture of each scene. Tom Sturge's lighting helps to set the mood for the piece. Lonie Fullerton further enhances the experience with her lovely and very detailed costumes.
Coffee With Richelieu succeeds in conveying its message while managing to be lighthearted. The moments of levity over a cup of coffee are some of the best scenes in the play. Although the Cardinal's coffee goes from sweet to bitter, Olney Theatre is serving up a tasty brew. Coffee With Richelieu runs through September 22nd.
Olney Theatre Center
Richelieu: Paul Morella