Celebrity – Glass Mask Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Ciarán Leinster

Writer: Elizabeth Moynihan

Director: Johan Bark

The timing for Celebrity could not have been a whole lot better. In the week that Harvey Weinstein’s rape conviction was overturned on appeal, a story focusing on the abuse and exploitation of women by the anointed taste-makers of the day should be crushingly resonant and relevant. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite hit the mark, for a number of reasons. While there is much that is enjoyable, and it is likely to improve over its run, overall it was impossible to not rue a missed opportunity.

Early 17th century Rome is the setting, with Pope Urban (Philip Judge) anointing Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Rex Ryan) as the chosen architect to drive his reconstruction of Rome, to push back against the Protestant Reformation coming from the north. When Bernini insists that his assistant’s high-born wife, the wilful Costanza (Jordanne Jones), sits for him, he sets in motion the events that will bring about his downfall, and her lengthy imprisonment. Art, politics, religion, and sex are all laid out as the core subjects to expand on, but despite the long running time (two and half hours with an interval), there is insufficient thematic exploration, or dramatic tension. Costanza’s capitulation to the desires of Bernini and the needs of her husband is inevitable, and long-drawn out. Her passionate, intense affair with Bernini’s brother Luigi (Ross Gaynor), on the other hand, is rushed. This muddled timing is reflective of the play’s problems overall, with the emphasis often in the wrong place.

That is not to say that there isn’t much to enjoy, though. The cast, in particular Gaynor, do a fine job, and the set design, light, and sound all do sterling work in establishing the mood and atmosphere. There are well-written exchanges, and Ryan is menacingly manic as he tries to balance his conflicting passions for art and sex. His work with Jones shows genuine chemistry, and her husband (Kyle Hixon) is perfectly desperate and pathetic.

Historical works such as this are most valuable when they speak to our moment, or address the timelessness of contemporary issues. Celebrity should have been able to do this, and with greater craft and discipline it would have. Instead, it’s impossible to feel that while this was a brave attempt, tighter direction would have produced a far more illuminating work.

Runs Until 18th May 2024.

The Review's Hub Score

Lacking focus

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The Reviews Hub - Ireland

The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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