The Napoleonade | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Napoleonade, Eclipse Theatre Company. In this ribald spoof, the 18th-century concept of the "feast of reason" turns into a feeding frenzy of false glory. Written in 1994 by Trevor Anthony and Thomas McCarthy, then grad students at the Yale School of Drama, this irreverent 65-minute "burlesque of conquest" compresses Napoleon's career from 1798 to 1821 into a crazed pantomime performed on, around, over, and under a dinner table so big it fills the stage. Kenn Puttbach's rampaging emperor is a painted fop who pontificates about destiny as the body count swells around him. Darren Bochat plays his doubting dupe, do-or-die Marshal Michel Ney, the "lion of the Rhine." And Tanera Marshall incarnates Napoleon's bloodthirsty ego as La Gloire, the spirit of a homicidal France, as well as the civilian victims who paid as much for Napoleon's victories as for his defeats.

Accompanied by composers Brian J. Allemana on drums and violinist Jennifer Lacki, the madcap trio rush around the table and the theater, popping in and out of trapdoors and manipulating countless props; the tablecloth and costumes create a tricolor, while candles symbolize the burning of Moscow. (The closest parallel to this play is Charlie Chaplin's merciless 1940 cartoon of Hitler, The Great Dictator.)

Both claustrophobic and hyperactive, Jay Paul Skelton's staging loses steam when the play turns incongruously glum to depict the doomed retreat from Moscow. Though The Napoleonade is inventive and physically risky, it's also fairly sophomoric satire. But if you enjoy history as farce, Eclipse's shenanigans offer a rambunctious time.

--Lawrence Bommer

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