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A.R.T.'s 'Britannicus' Misses the Mark

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By Jean Racine
Translation by C.H. Sisson

Directed by Robert Woodruff

Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernandez, Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind, Costume Design by Kaye Voyce, Sound Design by David Remedios, Video Design by Leah Gelpe, Original Music by Alfredo Narciso

Nero, Alfredo Narciso
Britannicus, Kevin O'Donnell
Agrippina, Joan MacIntosh
Junia, Merritt Janson
Burrhus, John Sierros
Narcissus, David Wilson Barnes
Albina, Adrianne Krstansky
Octavia, Megan Roth
Pallas, Douglas Cochrane


Performance Info: Now through February 11 at the Loeb Drama Center
Box Office: Online at or call (617)-547-8300 

Power. Lust. Greed. Betrayal. Murder.

  They key ingredients for any good drama are alive and well in Britannicus, Jean Racine's seventeenth century play of corruption and deception in the Julio-Claudian Dynasty. Junia is kidnapped by Nero in an attempt to stop her wedding to Britannicus and grant him a claim to the throne with her royal lineage. Britannicus has been disgraced by Nero and has fallen from the graces of the royal court; his marriage to Junia is in jeopardy after Nero decides he wants her, despite his current marriage to Octavia. Agrippina has manipulated Nero's way to the throne, and is forming alliances with anyone and everyone now that he threatens to take away her power. Everybody is sleeping with everybody, and nobody—absolutely nobody—can be completely trusted.

And you thought your family was dysfunctional! The drama going down in this palace makes the story lines of The O.C. pale in comparison.

  Drama alone, however, is not enough to drive this production, and there are unfortunate moments when the play simply drags. It's certainly not as a result of Robert Woodruff's direction, which is both intriguing and visually appealing. His use of video and live musical accompaniment add depth to an already complex tale and are enough to keep one interested during the occasional moments of tedium. Woodruff, however, is far from a boring director—his work is the highlight of this production.

  The modern set and simple costumes ensure that the focus remains on the actors, all of whom shine to create a strong ensemble cast. Alfredo Narciso captures the slimy and scheming Nero perfectly without delving into the world of the overdramatic, and Kevin O'Donnell's Britannicus is equally heart wrenching and hopeful. The elements of a fantastic show are all there.

  I just couldn't get into it. And I really wanted to. When it comes to the Romans, I have more than a mere fascination. And all that drama. How could it go wrong? Somewhere along the line, though, it did, and this racy tale became bogged down in itself. The play itself aside, though, the A.R.T.'s production itself is quite fantastic—it just sometimes gets overpowered by Racine's script.

  To be quite honest, this production does not grace my list of this season's favorites, and the show itself just left me empty. For you die-hard theatre—or Rome—fanatics, it might be worth a see, but I would hold out for something else; perhaps the A.R.T.'s next production won't be quite so off the mark.

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From This Author Olena Ripnick

Olena Ripnick is a Boston University journalism student and freelance writer whose introduction to the performing arts took place when she was cast as Gretel (read more...)