Wineke: Napoleon takes the APT stage, minus grandeur

Wineke: Napoleon takes the APT stage, minus grandeur

It takes the cynical insight of George Bernard Shaw to cut Napoleon Bonaparte down to size and it no doubt takes a culture like our own to appreciate the effort.

American Players Theatre’s current production of “The Man of Destiny” comes at such a time.

The play is set in an Italian restaurant in 1776, which seemed to be a good year for upstart movements, as Napoleon, a 27-year-old general fresh off a victory, plots his future.

Charles Pasternak, making his debut at APT this season, has the title role, portraying the famed French general as a somewhat grumpy, somewhat frumpy guest at the restaurant-inn.

He is attended to by host/waiter Giuseppi, played hilariously by veteran James Ridge, who enacts Shaw’s stage directions and adds a long discourse on how to make a perfect risotto, and by Josh Krause as an earnest lieutenant whose demeanor reminded me greatly of President Donald Trump, although he is of greatly inferior rank.

Krause’s character has to explain to Napoleon how he managed to be tricked by a sincere crook out of a packet of orders being sent to the general.

This being Shaw, the sincere crook turns out to be a beautiful woman disguised as a man, who is also staying at the inn. Cassia Thompson plays the character.

Napoleon quickly sees through the ruse, though the lieutenant doesn’t.

After that, it is all pretty much witty wordplay between Napoleon and the woman, which ends in them, maybe, getting together.

“The Man of Destiny” is performed in APT’s indoor Touchstone Theatre, a small venue that puts the audience close enough to the stage to be able to see Pasternak’s chin quiver when Napoleon fears he is being bested. It’s not really something one might expect of Napoleon, and it would be missed completely in a bigger theater.

The play is 90 minutes long and is performed in one act without intermission. If you are familiar with Shaw plays, this is a good thing because, while Shaw’s dialogue is witty – this was written in 1898 – it can, after a couple of hours, become tedious.

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