The Prince

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Through Sept. 19. $14-$25; 510-558-1381 or www.centralworks.org.
The Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley

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You might wonder how Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince could possibly be adapted for the stage. Central Works shows that it can be done, though the results might still leave you wondering why. Set in 16th-century Florence, the play (written and directed by Gary Graves) revolves around a conversation between Machiavelli (Richard Frederick) and his former student, Lorenzo de' Medici II (Michael Navarra). Machiavelli has returned from a long exile, and presents a little treatise — what we now know as The Prince — in an attempt to curry favor with the young nobleman. The ensuing discussion, in which the old cynic butts heads with the young idealist, is a smart exploration of politics and ethics, but less successful as drama. That's partly because the script, intelligent as it is, renders these two men as mouthpieces more than as characters; audiences may be stimulated by what they see, but they're unlikely to get too emotionally involved. As an experiment in processing Machiavelli's work through the filter of historical fiction, the play is a moderately successful 70-minute diversion for political-science buffs. Just don't expect to encounter characters who are lifelike enough to follow you home.

 
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