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Ovation Award Nomination - Best Supporting Actor - Matt Foyer

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Playwright Nick Dear brings the obscurities of Louis XIV's early reign into brilliant focus in "Power," now in its West Coast premiere at the Banshee.

A clever study in the excesses of authority, Dear's costume drama opens with the offstage death of Cardinal Mazarin — the power behind the throne and reportedly the lover to Queen Anne (wonderfully overbearing Casey Kramer). As regent, Anne routinely dominates her son Louis (Steve Coombs), a naive, near-bankrupt young monarch who receives lavish infusions of cash from his dear friend Nicolas Fouquet (Matt Foyer). Witty, wealthy but not wise, Fouquet faces a deadly foe in Colbert (Jason Tendell), a colorless bureaucrat who accuses Fouquet of financial malfeasance. But the dashing Fouquet's most unforgivable error lies in outshining the narcissistic Sun King.

Director McKerrin Kelly keeps the action briskly paced and perfectly in period, while her capable cast, clad in Laura Brody's sumptuous costumes, tear into their meaty roles with relish. David Pavao is hilarious yet touching as Louis' homosexual brother Philippe, whose apparent fecklessness conceals a keen sense of justice. Lesley Kirsten Smith strikes just the right note of wry resignation as Philippe's frustrated wife, Henriette, who has a brief affair with Louis, although Andra Carlson borders on the bland as the ripely nubile lass who displaces Henriettea.

In an otherwise satisfying turn, Coombs misses a few steps in his character's inevitable progression from innocence to corrupting power. The manipulative older Louis doesn't seem much different in manner and tone than his guileless youthful self — a missed opportunity that tells on the play. However, the standout of this solidly satisfying production is Foyer as the cheerfully conniving Fouquet. Dashed from his pinnacle into a dungeon, he manages a wheezing whistle in the dark.

Reviewed by F. Kathleen Foley for the Los Angeles Times


Power

Politicians are your servants, not your masters. — Louis XIV

The above quote from a 23-year-old French monarch later called The Sun King sounds like the naïve observation of a very young king. He believed it in the 17th century we want to believe it now. That’s why this parable of power, which the young King learns by aping his fascinating Finance Minister Nicolas Fouquet, retains its ironic truths today.

Nick Dear’s political comedy, first done at London’s Royal National Theatre, is directed by McKerrin Kelly with sardonic passion and flair at Theatre Banshee. It centers on the King’s coming of age, as he learns about women and power from his sophisticated mentor who is o well liked by the royal family. This includes the King’s powerful mother, Anne of Austria, who claims she repressed his brother Philipps’s masculinity so that Louis would never be tempted to murder him; Philippe, called Monsieur, and his frustrated English wife Henriette, sister of Charles II of England. We also meet Colbert, strait-laced assistant to Fouchet who ultimately organizes the evidence of corruption that brings him down, and Louise de la Valliere, the beautiful maid of honor who becomes the married king’s true love. "The purpose of a wife is to remind you of what you’re missing" Fouquet reminds him.

Although the family all love Monsieur, who floats through life like a lace-trimmed cloud, Louis finds the perfect job for him. Monsieur is asked to codify the elaborate French code of manners and Louis enforces this code by forcing all the coutiers to live at Versailles where he can keep an eye on them.

Dear traces Louis’s maturity as a person who casts himself in the mode of his brilliant and artistic mentor but Fouquet cuts his own throat when he invites the King and 6,000 of his closest friends to a fabulous entertainment at his magnificent new estate, Belle-Isle. The evidence of Fouquet’s embezzlements was blazingly clear and the deposed minister spent the rest of his life in prison. Near creates a final scene between King and Minister, in which Louis says he will make improvements. "You will not make improvements, roars Fouquet, you have no STYLE!"

Dear sticks close to historical facts but illuminates them with his own satiric humor, playing on the irresistible attraction of greed and how it warps human relationships. The play is driven by a scintillating central performance from Matt Foyer as Fouquet. He seems to mimic the courtly courtiers’ bow, as if he’s mocking them while beating them at their own game. In his last scene with Louis, he shows a touching vulnerability. It profits him nothing and it’s to the credit of young Steve Coombs as Louis that he displays the authority and force to hold the stage playing against such a dazzling actor.

Casey Kramer has a power all her own, well remembered from her Mag in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Celtic Arts Center. She can make a simple query like "What are you talking about?" paint a picture. David Pavao plays Monsieur Philippe as written, more feminine than a woman, very funny. One misses the flashes of anger and vulnerability Foyer produces but Pavao’s flair for comedy is assured. Lesley Kirsten Smith is an elegant Henriette, struggling with her role in life. Jason Tendell plays Colbert and Andra Carlson the ingénue Louise.

Arthur MacBride creates an excellent scenic design, featuring a revolving center piece on the Banshee’s small stage that reveals the actors, easing them into our consciousness. Power is an evocation of a period where corruption is colorful and passions are royal but it’s central theme, that Louis rules by exceeding the mirror image of his mentor, is echoed in the timeless similarities of today’s power.

Reviewed for CurtainUp.com by Laura Hitchcock


 Pick of the Week

It’s 1661 and Louis XIV has been in Power in name only since the age of five. The France he has inherited is rocked with scandal when, 13 years later after the death of the monarch-behind-the monarch Cardinal Mazarin—who was possibly also the lover of the young “Sun King’s” mother Queen Anne—Louis decides to take over the throne for real.

The Power in focus here, as well as the corruption and sense of entitlement that seems to naturally come with it, is not unlike the political miasma of today and you can bet British playwright Nick Dear is one guy intent on showing us how little has changed in three-and-a-half centuries of mass abuse in the name of personal gain. “There is famine,” Louis (Steve Coombs) declares as a viable reason for him to siege control and order an audit of the imperial coffers to find out what his regime has done to help tear his country asunder, but his mother Anne (Casey Kramer) only snaps back at his foolishness: “Famine, yes, but there is no dissent.”

Although Dear’s Power is set within the silly excesses of the era in question, chockfull of exaggerated manners, elaborate powdered wigs, and ribbon-festooned velvet finery surely worthy of Moliere (giving costumer Laura Brody a chance to show her considerable mettle on the small Theatre Banshee stage), his grandly affected characters speak through the fluttering of their lace handkerchiefs in a very contemporary style, not unlike Christopher Hampton’s equally decadent and verbally juicy Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Coombs has been a wonderful asset to LA theatre since his debut in Michael Michetti’s adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Boston Court last season and once again he delivers a fine performance as Louis, a young man obviously torn between decency and the temptations not only of wealth and influence but of his own raging hormones. To conceal his dalliances with Henriette (Lesley Kirsten Smith), the horny untouched wife of his mincingly queeny prince of a brother Philippe (played without as net by David Pavao), the conspirators invent an affair with one of her ladies-in-waiting (Andra Carlson), a deception that turns into a love worthy of Romeo and Juliet, something of which the dashingly soft-spoken Coombs is quite familiar these days.

Kramer is sardonic perfection as the ballsy Queen Mother, a role that sadly has no place to go in the scheme of things, and both Matt Foyer as Fouquet, the flashy financial advisor and resident moneylender to the throne, and Jason Tendell as Colbert, the dour royal numbers-cruncher intent on exposing Fouquet as a cooker of the royal books, are excellent as well.

Power has a lot going for it but, under the surprisingly tepid direction of McKerrin Kelly, it also misses some golden visual and corporeal opportunities to shock while offering hilarious stage pictures. This is not at all aided by Arthur McBride’s ill-advised choices as set designer, his constructions, though beautifully painted, as sparse and unwieldy as Brody’s costumes are ornate. An omnipresent revolving center flat, ploddingly turned by often observable stagehands in badly contrasting modernday “blacks,” only then reveal a new chair or bench or painted tree slapped against it, distracting from the smoothness of Dear's lightness of vision.  

But the play’s the thing here and as usual, Theatre Banshee presents Power with style and genuine panache. Despite its flaws, Kelly’s first-rate cast rises above the lack of directorial cohesion to collaborate with the brash and crafty Dear, finding subtle but rich humor and enormous irony in a story which, in the hands of another less colorful playwright, could be just another desiccated historical drama.

Dear never wavers in his uncanny ability to balance the ridiculously embroidered royal dandies in Power with the Armani-clad political hucksters and mendacious powerbrokers of our millennium, all the while making his audience laugh at how stupid we’ve been over the ensuing centuries to let the same corruption from those in positions of leadership overwhelm our common sense time and time again.

Simply, our current “courtiers” such as the late Kenneth Lay, that anti-Christ Mr. Chaney, and the entire oil-glutted Bush family (with the matriarchal “let-them-eat-cake” Barbara as the latter-day Queen Anne), would be right at home reinventing and reinterpreting ethics in King Louis’ court.

Reviewed for EntertainmentToday.net by Travis Michael Holder


Power shows strength in acting

Superbly acted and well-written, "Power," now playing at The Banshee in Burbank, is a unique opportunity to learn about an interesting time in French history while being entertained. It's a compelling look at influential people manipulating other influential people in an effort to gain control of a situation or, as in the case of King Louis XIV, a country. The procurement of power, in political, familial or romantic arenas, is as fascinating today as it was centuries ago.

Playwright Nick Dear is a modern-day writer with credits in theater ("The Art of Success"), British television ("Poirot") and cinema ("The Turn of the Screw"). He has a knack for honing well-crafted characters and gives them witty, intelligent lines. This helps in understanding the dialogue about French politics necessary to the plot.

The play opens upon the death of Cardinal Mazarin who essentially has been ruling France since Louis XIII's death and until Louis XIV comes of age. Teenage Louis (played well by Steve Coombs) now must take the reins and, with his domineering mother by his side, does so with a glint in his eye. He's getting advice from all sides as to which advisors to keep and which to let go. Louis believes himself ordained by God and prefers all government to be centralized in him. Recognizing that indeed Louis XIV, the Sun King, ruled a powerful empire for a record-breaking 72 years, it's awe-inspiring to watch this naïve boy set his jaw in determination to become one of the most influential absolute monarchs of all time.

But the play is not all politics and history. Thanks to witty and sometimes whimsical direction by McKerrin Kelly, things move along at a fast clip. Each character has their own unique strength on stage. Most notable is Matt Foyer as Fouquet. Fouquet is the king's minister of finance with his eye on becoming first minister. Foyer has a whale of a time playing Fouquet as a bon vivant, a snappy dresser and a connoisseur of fine things. But at the same time, Fouquet is sloppy with his emotions and his finances. The royal family loves him and has for a long time. But now the bookish accountant, Colbert (played perfectly by Jason Tendell), has laid down a whole lot of suspicions about him. Whose influence will prevail? Naturally, the one with the most "power."

There are sexual and familial power plays as well. Louis' mother is a force to reckon with and is played fiercely by Casey Kramer. But even she finally bows to the king. Louis' brother, played fabulously by David Pavao, is flamboyant, effeminate and totally useless (to use his own words). There are two mistresses involved in various romances who add a spark of fun and intrigue. Both are good, but Lesley Kirsten Smith gets to revel in her juicier role as Henriette.

Laura Brody does a great job creating costumes of the period, and the sets simply but effectively convey the French court as well as the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles. In fact, there are more costume and set changes than you would expect from such a small theater. You get the best of both worlds — intimacy with a touch of opulence. It's kind of like the play itself. The Sun King's reign was known for its opulence and wealth. But this unique view from within the power players' chambers gives an achingly intimate portrait of the vulnerable human beings they really were.

Reviewed by Lisa Dupuy for the Burbank Leader


GO!

Molière’s patron, King Louis XIV (Steven Coombs), was probably supposed to be the centerpiece of Nick Dear’s intriguing historical drama, here in its American premiere. (It opened at London’s National Theatre in 2003). The play opens with Louis’ regent mother, Anne (Casey Kramer), grieving at the just-received news of her husband’s death, as well as that of the Cardinal, who had been the royal family patron. The new king, her son barely out of childhood, faces a treasury stocked with more vapors than cash, and the dueling interests of two courtiers jockeying for influence: the colorful Foquet (Matt Foyer), a conspicuously wealthy landowner and bird trainer who expects, for reasons of his having subsidized the royal family, to be named first minister; and the court bean counter, Colbert (Jason Tendell), who’s out to inflate Foquet’s eccentricities and petty financial corruptions into a charge of treason. Under McKerrin Kelly’s direction, Foyet’s Foquet not only steals the show, he becomes the central character. His fall from grace — as the bland, jealous king covets his ideas, his grandiloquence and his land — emerges as a cautionary tale about delusions of grandeur. In place of a driving central action, the play substitutes sexual intrigue in the court, which gives it a quality more titillating and ruminative than dramatic, held by the glue of Dear’s wit and an ensemble that ably negotiates the language. Also, Laura Brody’s costumes are gorgeous.

Reviewed by Steven Leigh Morris for the LA Weekly


The Banshee Wails a Striking Tune

Theatre Banshee lays tucked away along a stretch of quaint shops on Magnolia Street in Burbank. A hearty cup of coffee accompanied by authentic, Spanish-style rice pudding at Urban Eats is the perfect prelude to joining the crowd next door.

The black box theatre seats an audience of approximately 50, and while it appears remote from L.A.’s more fashionable destinations, this theatre packs an exciting collection of talented artists that can bring a play to life like no other and make you wonder why you never joined the audience before.

Director McKerrin Kelly describes Theatre Banshee as “a very small company” that is able to maintain “this family feeling—a definite sense of personal responsibility and accountability for the theatre itself.”

At first glance, Theatre Banshee appears as a small, empty room, but the moment the lights are up and eighteenth-century French characters sashay down the aisle, frolic across the stage, and roll around on the floor, the audience has no other choice but to give in to the intimate style of entertainment that only the Banshee can provide. In fact, Theatre Banshee is dedicated to scouring the globe for live entertainment that challenges and inspires.
It is for this reason that “Power,” a new play by Nick Dear, presents the transformation of young and naïve Louis XIV into France’s renowned Sun King in a way that looks deeper than historical façade.

The 18th Century began with the rule of Louis XIV, a man that reigned over France with such outrageous pomp that some consider him to be history’s greatest ego, as can be understood by his well deserved title, “The Sun King.”

It is perhaps Louis’ outright ego that inspired Dear to dilute the obvious aspects of this legendary character to present the king as a real human being capable of the same passion and pride each audience member can relate to.

“The language is much more modern, the stage directions written into the script and the actions that these characters do are not necessarily what they would have done at that time,” said Kelly. “Because it is not stylistically accurate, it allows us to be more creative in the way that we present this.”

Interwoven with French names, contemporary cussing, and easy-to-understand Old English, any fear that “Power” could be disguised as a dull history lesson is easily set aside as a cast of only seven takes the stage with an endless supply of theatrical aptitude.
“I think there is a level of commitment among the members of this particular company to live theatre, whereas a lot of times, people are in a company just to keep themselves busy until they get seen for television or film,” said Kelly.

Whether David Pavao is skipping across the stage in a bright orange wig while clutching his hanky as Louis’ brother Philippe or Matt Foyer is stumbling in a drunken stupor while flailing his arms in the air as Louis’ financial supporter Fouquet, “Power” guarantees the audience pure entertainment.

“I chose to go more presentational with my blocking, because I felt the period and the piece was about presentation,” said Kelly. “That is why a lot of the action takes place front and center, but some people thought it was a little off-putting.”

As Fouquet, Matt Foyer demonstrates this up-close-and-personal direction with his winking and side comments to the audience and away from the other characters. That way, Foyer creates a more personalized relationship with Banshee’s crowd

In particular, Kelly explained that the role of Fouquet is a complex figure. “Fouquet is such a charming man, but he is a criminal,” said Kelly. “You want to like somebody who is not doing the right thing, and I think that is a very human reaction.”

More than just the comic dressing to the steady and serious acting displayed by Steve Coombs as Louis, Foyer comprises a flexible, multifaceted talent that allows the audience to share in his range of emotions and therefore gain a different perspective of the Sun King.

“I wanted the audience to be able to experience that acceleration of restrictions and just to be able to see the power struggles between each of the characters and then also to have a little bit of the feeling that things are not quite right by the end of the play,” said Kelly.

With the combination of seasoned actors and an intriguing play, Nick Dear’s “Power” reigns in as much pomp as the Sun King himself. Clearly, for this performance, Theatre Banshee’s haunting wail cannot go unnoticed.

Reviewed by Danielle Jacoby for LA2Day.com


In a strange offbeat way, at the time this was written it seemed to make sense to begin this article by mentioning Sir John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton and his famed pronouncement now known as Lord Acton’s Dictum. No doubt everyone remembers Lord Acton’s famous letter of April, 1887 to Bishop Mandell Creighton, where among other things, the Lord stated "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".  Then he followed up in the same letter saying, "Great men are almost always bad men".
 
There are some who would not agree completely with these statements, but whether one agrees or not, Theatre Banshee’s current production is a dandy dissection of power, corruption and the dubious greatness of people.  Relax, it's not about the DUBYA administration.
 
Playwright Nick Dear’s elegant treatise explores the reign of Louis XIV, who inherited the kingdom of France at age five, but lived under the rule of his mother Ann and Cardinal Mazarin’s regency, a caretaker government of sorts until Louis came of age. The story opens with the Cardinal’s death and an eighteen-year old Louis taking over the throne, having to make decisions as to who to appoint as ministers, who to trust and who to fear. To add to his problems, he learns the monarchy is broke and there may be a conspiracy in the making. Louis brings some reform ideas to the throne, but is quickly rebuffed discovering that the status-quo is far more acceptable than innovation. Slowly he begins to tarnish, starting with an affair with his brother’s wife, (even though Louis is married), then moving on to the wife’s chambermaid and later incarcerating his trusted friend, Nicolas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finances, who at the time had been hailed as the darling of the monarchy. Replete with affairs, deceptions, schemes and corruption, the play succeeds not just as a backward look at the monarchy of a charismatic ruler, but also in depicting that the government mentality of the 1600’s has not changed that much and that people in power will use that power to suppress opposition and insure their own survival.
 
Another way in which this production succeeds in grand style is the presentation by Theatre Banshee. Excellent performances from the entire cast showcase Matt Foyer’s portrait of Nicolas Fouquet, who dominates every scene with a wit, demeanor and flamboyant arrogance that make him an endearing rascal. Steve Coombs (reviewed here last year for his portrayal as Dorian Gray) shows the part of Louis XIV that is brash and impetuous and amoral, while striking a balance as a sometime sober and statesman-like young king who tries to live up to what he thinks is expected. Jason Tendell is excellent as Minister of Finance, more a bean counter in contrast to Fouquet’s charismatic rainmaker. Between them, their performances exemplify the contrast between true loyalty to duty and outright greed. The wonderful David Pavao provides exceptional comic relief as the effeminate Philippe, brother to Louis whose wife’s infidelities are of less concern to him than the sartorial taste of Fouquet.
 
Women always have a great deal of influence on the course of history, and in the court of Louis XIV it was his mother Ann who set the tone in the early days. Casey Kramer is regal, strong and indomitable playing the role, but manages to show a degree of deference as she sees her son take on more and more power. Lesley Kirsten Smith is devilishly radiant playing Henriette, Philippe’s errant wife. She eagerly jumps into Louis’s bed, quickly embraces his mother’s ploy to hide the affair, and promptly finds comfort with another man when Louis dumps her for her maid, lovely Louise, played by a wide eyed ingénue type Andra Carlson.
 
You will immediately notice the inspired costuming by Laura Brody, who has created some exceptional finery for a royal court steeped in lavishness. This alone would take you back to the period, but when played before Arthur MacBride’s creative rotating scenic design and the minutely detailed mural paintings by Josie DiVincenzo the effect is nothing less than a regal spectacle.  Some would have depicted power with gargantuan settings, sumptuous brocades and massive furnishings.  Director McKerrin Kelly choses dainty stylized Fleur de Lis to decorate his walls, a graceful table and two chairs to prop the actors and then guides them with restraint through their aristocratic paces.  It would have been so easy to let them overplay the role of the elite - but with the characters of Philippe and Fouquet already drawn so large, Kelly keeps decorum and credibility throughout the performance.
 
In the final scene Louis appears in full royal splendor capped by a cascading wig; he now has become the complete powerful and absolute monarch, going so far as to assume the titles of The Great, The Grand Monarch or the Sun King. The Marquis Fouquet has been sentenced to prison and Colbert rises in power. You, in the meantime, have experienced an exceptional presentation in the tradition of Theatre Banshee.

Reviewed by José Ruíz for ReviewPlays.com


Limonade might convey the impression that the French are ineffably candid, thoughtful, and relaxed. For a corrective to that notion, see Theatre Banshee’s West Coast premiere of Nick Dear’s Power, set in the 17th-century court of the French “sun king,” Louis XIV (Steve Coombs). Almost everyone here pursues a survival strategy based on deception. Royal adviser Fouquet (Matt Foyer), a champion of conspicuous hedonism, eventually loses his power to the bean-counting “family values” exemplar Colbert (Jason Tendell, who actually looks somewhat like Stephen Colbert).

Meanwhile, the young king’s mother (Casey Kramer) is shocked – shocked! – by her married royal son’s fling with the wife (Lesley Kirsten Smith) of his swishy brother (David Pavao). So His Highness turns to his sister-in-law’s lowly maid (Andra Carlson), the one character who isn’t greedy for power. Naturally, she gets more of it – power, that is – than she ever expected.

McKerrin Kelly’s direction works well enough, considering the thorny problem of representing the Sun King’s surroundings in a space that’s about the size of one of his palace closets.

Reviewed by Don Shirley for LA City Beat

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