“What an artist dies in me.”
These are the words Nero reputedly spoke when he heard that his senate had declared him an enemy of the state and sentenced him to a public execution. Whether or not creator Nicholas Dave Amott found some inspiration in these words or not, it is Nero the artist, the one utterly consumed by the creation of spectacle that we are presented with.
Having fled the city that had turned its back on him, we find Nero in the villa of Phaon, an imperial freedman who is sympathetic enough towards the former emperor to shelter him for the night. There, instead of making plans to flee even further, he is convinced that he must prove himself to his people by creating a play about his life and why things had to happen the way that they did. As he drifts farther and farther away from reality, his servants must decide whether to abandon him or risk reeling him in safely to the shores of sanity.
As Rome Burns has an interesting classical style, eloquent to the point of almost sounding like an interpretation of some Roman playwright, from the Latin-infused invocation of the gods at the start of the show to the wise words of Seneca that pepper the latter half of the play. Of course, this just makes Phaon’s frustrated lapses into modern colloquialisms all the more hilarious. Even better, Amott refuses to overuse this convention just for laughs; instead, he makes sure that the timing of his comic breaks are so spot on that it’s like riding some strange tragi-comic roller coaster that you want to jump back on as soon as its over.
The acting is just as splendid, each player with their own interesting little nuances that they bring to their characters. It’s hard to single anyone out, so I won’t, and say that Amott, Sam Dietrich, Lawrence Evanchick, Victoria Luloff, and Brennan Richardson all manage to play their roles in a way that compliments the next player. Each has their stronger roles – Evanchick as Seneca, Amott as Nero, Dietrich as Sporus, Richardson as Phaon, Luloff as Poppaea – but all do a sterling job throughout.
While this play isn’t historically canon, it’s still a good and (relatively) accurate retelling of Nero’s final days/ If Classical theatre and civ is your thing (or even if it isn’t) you should definitely make time in your Fringe schedule for this awesome show.
PSA: Studio Leonard-Beaulne is in the Seraphin Marion Building on the University of Ottawa Campus. this building is surrounded by construction and can only be approached from Stewart St. Plan accordingly!
Friday. June 17 – 6:30PM
Saturday, June 18 – 9:30Pm
Sunday, June 19 – 1PM
Wednesday, June 22 – 11PM
Friday, June 24 – 8:30PM
Sunday, June 26 – 3:30PM