Several actors were reportedly injured while rehearsing the sword fights and other assorted horseplay in "Zastrozzi," at the Round House Theatre. But the real occupational hazards in this production are built into George F. Walker's lame script.
The play is set in "Europe. Probably Italy" in 1893, where Zastrozzi, the Master Criminal of Europe, introduces himself, his valet Bernardo and dominatrix Matilda, and then embarks on a nebulous but nonetheless obsessive crusade to exact a violent revenge on Verezzi, a deluded artist/saint. Walker marches his villain in a tedious straight line, scattering bodies on the stage until Zastrozzi gets to his prey.
In his attempt to spoof adventure melodramas from "The Scarlet Pimpernel" to "Zorro," Walker tries to match the swordplay with wordplay -- something about the eternal battle between good and evil, order and chaos, freedom and tyranny. But the result is a metaphysical muddle, mixed up with some sadomasochistic nonsense that is neither funny nor sexy. And the intermittent sword fights are unforgivably dull.
This sort of thing requires a certain flamboyance and e'lan in the performance. But as directed by artistic director Jerry Whiddon, who presumably also chose the script, "Zastrozzi" buckles just where it should swash.
Playing the archfiend Zastrozzi, Mitchell Patrick seems more baffled than bully, as he puzzles over how to put his convoluted monologues, which amount to strings of non sequiturs.
Patrick's not alone in his confusion. The rest of the cast struggle to maintain some dignity, with varying degrees of success. Steven LeBlanc fares best as waspish but plucky Victor, Verezzi's teacher and unlikely guardian. As the deluded Verezzi, Christopher Hurt's frantic performance is anything but energy-efficient. As Julia, the virgin inge'nue despoiled by the villain, Jane Beard, in comic golden locks, puts a tiger in her tussles and reveals a terrific scream. Mark Diekmann and Carolyn Swift don't make much of a mark in their respective roles as Zastrozzi's cronies Bernardo and Matilda.
The Round House and set designer Jos. B. Musumeci Jr. have lavished time and money on the set, a stone castle with lots of stairs and entrances. It is gloomily illuminated by lighting designer Daniel MacLean Wagner, who begins the play in the dark, where the actors -- and audience -- remain. Zastrozzi, by George F. Walker. Directed by Jerry Whiddon; fight direction, James Finney; composer, John Roby; setting, Jos. B. Musumeci Jr.; lighting, Daniel MacLean Wagner; costumes, Marsha M. LeBoeuf. With Jane Beard, Mark Diekmann, Christopher Hurt, Steven LeBlanc, Mitchell Patrick, Carolyn Swift. At the Round House Theatre through Feb. 28.