DUNSTER'S production of the Durrenmatt-Gore Vidal play Romulus excellently reflects the dual nature of the work. It reminds one of many French plays (especially those of Cocteau, Anouilh and Giraudoux) both witty and superficial on one hand, and intensely intellectual and philosophical on the other. The problem of mounting such a production on the amateur level is obvious: the recruitment of actors to perform characters who can simultaneously embrace these conflicting elements.
Romulus is the last emperor of Rome. As a symbol he represents the highest consciousness of the epitome of Roman decadence. His hyper-intellectual views are in opposition to the blind devotion, "pro patria" attitude of his court. He feels obliged to affect Rome's end, because he sees through its facade of greatness. He is a Superman in mind but not in charisma.
Craig Newenhuyse plays the role quite well. Although he is hampered by some bad acting techniques (an awkward physical presence), he effectively conveys the role's pessimism. He is particularly fine in the first act, where Vidal has lent him a great deal of wit and polish. He was sensitively aware of the character's dynamics, never boring, but not altogether inspiring.
Romulus wife Julia is at the head of the conservative court. Her stock responses to the complex political issues are marvelously portrayed by Innes McDade. When she appears, one is immediately drawn to her by her remarkable stage presence.
The conflict between idealism and materialism is expressed in the confrontation between Otto Rupf, head of the international trouser company, and Romulus. The gruffly energetic portrayal of Rupf by Rich Anderson overemphasized this already obvious distinction.
The most successful performance was that of Jack Shea in the role of Aemilian, perhaps because his part was undercut by the play's facetiousness. Unlike the other major characters, Aemilian does not have to balance aloof wit with deeply-felt philosophy.
Romulus deserves attention as being one cut above the average house production both in the seriousness of its intent and in the general success of the execution. Jason Kanter, the director, succeeds to a great extent in managing the unruly elements of the script, and, with the help of Chris Ripman's set, his production ends up being close to the theatrical equivalent of a Roman banquet.