Two historical figures meet inside a modern politician's head. This is the clever setup of "Princes & Principles," a dry one-act play based on dueling dialogues between political bad boy Niccolo Machiavelli and Enlightenment goody-goody Cesare Beccaria. The production began a three-day run Thursday at the Stanislavsky Theater Studio.
The form of two philosophers having a dialogue is as old as the Greek hills and needs no updating to be modern. But this form does need plenty of dramatic characterization to bring it alive. Otherwise it comes off like two guys reading a textbook. That's what happens in this production. Director/writer/choreographer Marco Pelle provides a bare-bones set (there's a screen at the back), minimal costuming, not much stage business and seemingly few directives to develop character. The production's two skilled Italian actors (Ulisse Lendaro as Machiavelli and Carlo Properzi Curti as Beccaria) are left at a disadvantage, with lots of weighty words and little to lighten the burden.
The production quickly settles into a pattern of chunks of dialogue followed by ballet interludes (beautifully danced by Sharon Milanese, Stephen Melendez and Demetrius King, all from the New York Theatre Ballet). The philosophers enter and talk about subjects like torture and war. They leave. Then the dancers come on and do pirouettes. Any connection between the two is, at best, thin.
-- Pamela Squires