Its title is also its theme. And yet, ironically, British playwright Nick Dear’s “Power,” a historical play about a young Louis XIV and the beginnings of his ostentatious rise to absolute rule, is missing some of this in a visually sumptuous yet emotionally ineffectual American premiere production by the Remy Bumppo Theatre. Although I’d rather devour my history on the page than be subjected to it on the stage, I’m certainly not averse to a good “chronicle drama,” especially when it features as fascinating a collection of characters and as robust a language as does “Power.” Nonetheless, my indifference to this play is twofold. First, its ideas never progress beyond the obvious. In two dense acts made up of nineteen short scenes, Dear garrulously examines the politics and propriety of Louis IV’s court to conclude that power and conspicuous consumption corrupt and that nobody—not monarch, matriarch or even maid of honor—is immune to this type of corruption. Second, these concerns seem slightly out of touch with the zeitgeist. Yes, I realize that a Houston court will soon rule on one of the biggest cases of white-collar fiscal malfeasance in history, but in these times of religious fundamentalism, anti-immigrant racism and the war in Iraq, it seems to me that immoral and not material excess should be Dear’s idée fixe. “Tartuffe,” Remy’s exceptional revival from earlier this season, was effective because its themes were ripe for today’s day and age. But urgent topicality and dramatic oomph would have infused “Power” twenty years ago, when the examination of extravagant seventeenth-century European pomp and circumstance would have resonated in a “greed is good” America consumed with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
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