PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Theater and Politics Send-up: “Mondragola” at CentralWorks

By Susan Dunn

Gary Graves new play sends up both theater and politics where the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Niccolo Machiavelli is commonly known as the cynical and amoral philosopher of politics from his signature work, “The Prince” (Il Principe). Who would guess that Machiavelli, living the good life as Secretary in the Medici government for many years, would be exiled and forced into writing saucy comedies to eke out his living?

 taps every production’s nightmare…

Mondragola (Mandrake) takes its name from a farce Machiavelli wrote in exile, along with “The Prince”, while hoping to return to the Medicis’ good graces and the sustenance of government life. On opening, Machiavelli, handsomely played by Rudy Guerrero, describes how critical this play performance is to his future career. He hopes that the Cardinal who will be in attendance and loves comedies, will be so impressed that he will commission him to write a history of Florence, but his actors have fled with the production money, and it’s eight hours to showtime!

(l to r): Battista (Edwin Jacobs) and Zenobia (Monique Crawford) agree to perform in Niccolo Machiavelli’s silly comedy. –At TheaterWorks

In desperation, he cajoles his gangster producers, Battista and Luigi, into covering as actors, along with the revolutionary Zenobia, girlfriend to Battista. This works as the joke of “taking actors off the street” almost literally. As the drama “to pull the drama off” continues, another drama—of revolution and murder—is organized behind Machiavelli’s back. As he tries frantically to get the actors to learn their lines and rehearse, we discover the printed scripts have only each separate actor’s lines. Without cues, they must memorize without context. And since they are non-actors, they make up their own words, to the fury of the playwright.

Mondragola taps every production’s nightmare, and giving more of the story would be a spoiler. But a fine cast of individuals brings out individual personalities. Edwin Jacobs as Battista is a slick hoodlum and secret revolutionary who pulls off his many faces of bravado and bewilderment with finesse. Monique Crawford is imperious as a committed political rebel and activist, while Steve Ortiz, as Luigi, the crazed, crazy and hilarious thug/sidekick can talk his way out of anything.

Florence, 1522. Fifty years before Shakespeare: Niccolo Machiavelli, author of “The Prince” – the infamous “handbook for tyrants”- has returned to perform his silly comedy “Mondragola” for the Cardinal de’ Medici.

The four actors address all three wings of the “in the round” arena stage with great skill and breathless pace thanks to Jan Zvaifler’s direction. It all made sense and played to every part of the house. A special treat of this production is Gregory Sharpen’s sound design, which expands this trim conceit of four backstage actors to Machiavelli’s actual play going on outside.

The feast in Mondragola is historical, theatrical, political and comedic. There is also a large dose of irony at the play’s end, with each actor finding a new end or a new beginning, depending on the circumstances. Recommended for those who like a big meal served in a short space of 65 minutes.


Since arriving in California from New York in 1991, Susan Dunn has been on the executive boards of Hillbarn Theatre, Altarena Playhouse, Berkeley Playhouse, Virago Theatre and Island City Opera, where she is a development director and stage manager.

An enthusiastic advocate for new productions and local playwrights, she is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and a recipient of a 2015 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award. Contact: susanmdunn@yahoo.com

Written byGary Graves
Directed byJan Zvaifler
Producing CompanyCentral Works
Production DatesThru Apr 16th
Production AddressBerkeley City Club
2315 Durant Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
Telephone(510) 558 -1381
Tickets$35 - $40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

Other Voices…

"Playwright Gary Graves has taken facts about Machiavelli and added his own creative twist in a fascinating play..."East Bay Times
"...history’s most famous political strategist...finds himself a pawn in someone else’s gambit. But some tricksters don’t know about Machiavelli’s past life..."San Francisco Chronicle