Through October 6
PHILOSOPHUS Alleyway Theatre
I can’t decide whether it’s Colin Speer Crowley’s “Philosophus” or Neal Radice’s direction, which plays the story mostly for laughs, especially Chris J. Handley’s Voltaire.
The play is actually based on a true story involving the French radical and writer Voltaire and his former ally, Prussian King Frederick the Great, and an incident in Frankfurt, Germany, far from Prussia although not from the king’s agents.
The king saw himself as something of a liberal, but he was king of Prussia and the rules were different and he could be as cruel and authoritarian as his ancestors.
Voltaire had escaped from Prussia with something the king wanted back and the king’s agent in Frankfurt, Baron von Freytag (James Cichocki), seized the writer and philosopher and his valet Collini (Andrew Zuccari) in an effort to find what his king wanted back.
It’s mostly true although I really don’t think it was as farcical as this production suggests.
And, farcical is the problem, a Saturday Night Live version of a real struggle between the old world of the kings of Prussia and a man of the Enlightenment whose ideas on issues like separating church and state and freedom of speech are a threat to the old orders.
I really don’t think Voltaire thought of this as farce, given his prior stays in places like the Bastille.
It’s an interesting story and a look at a man who is more of a symbol or a code phrase than someone who was a pivotal figure in Western thought.
He deserves better than “Philosophus.”
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