BELLA DONNA (Burning Passions/Some Strange Reason Theatreworks). To June 7. 416-?368-?3110. See Continuing, in listings. Rating: NNNN
David Copelin scored a hit with Bella Donna back at the 2005 Fringe Festival, and now his historical look at the notorious Borgia family has been expanded for this well-?deserved remount.
Set during the Italian Renaissance, Bella Donna opens with the death of Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia patriarch, and the succession of his vengeful rival Julius II, who loses no time excommunicating the remaining Borgia clan.
The action follows the tumultuous relationship between infamous femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia (Franç oise Balthazar) and her hedonistic husband, Duke Alfonso d’Este (Stephen Sparks), as their attempt to make peace with Rome leads to the uncovering of a dark family secret.
Copelin’s script includes steamy sex scenes, violent sword duels, snakes, poison and secret passages, but sometimes historical accuracy loses out to tongue-?in-?cheek modern turns of phrase.
The most jarring out-?of-?place choice made by director Sue Miner (who does a fantastic job otherwise of nailing the pace and tenor) is to use the 1960s Zombies hit Time Of The Season to open the second act. Certainly, there’s a vague thematic connection, but as the one obvious anachronism, it undermines the Renaissance milieu.
The production’s biggest asset is the strong ensemble cast led by Balthazar and Sparks. Sparks makes the crass and petty Alfonso genuinely funny and oddly likeable, while Balthazar works hard to make the vilified Lucrezia a complex and ultimately sympathetic character.