The Man of Destiny

A short "trifle" about Napoleon is witty as hell but very dry

George Bernard Shaw's 90-minute “trifle” about Napoleon is a fitting swan song for Barbara Oliver in her late career as founding artistic director of the Aurora Theatre. The Aurora has been a local source for great Shaw for over a decade; a few years ago Oliver even tackled the three-hour Saint Joan. The Man of Destiny shows Napoleon as a young general, cooling his heels in an Italian inn during his 1796 assault on Austria to “liberate” it from the Habsburgs. A nameless Strange Lady intercepts a stash of top-secret letters from Paris that includes bad news for Napoleon from his wife, Josephine. The spectacle of a would-be emperor of Europe chasing a woman around a table in the courtyard of a provincial inn makes for rich comedy, even if T. Edward Webster lacks the chutzpah to play Napoleon to the hilt. Stacy Ross has an infectiously fun time as the Lady, trying to maintain both composure and control over the insistent Corsican. Jeffrey Bihr does nice work as the narrator in the opening scene, delivering a trimmed version of Shaw's introduction (not technically part of the dialogue, but useful); he's also a funny innkeeper. But Craig Neibaur is too cartoonish as the bumbling lieutenant abused by Napoleon, and chemistry between Napoleon and the Lady is, in general, missing. The play comes off as a Punch cartoon more than fully fleshed Shaw — witty as hell but very dry.

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