“The Romanovs:” a relic that needs more polishing

Presented by Covey Theatre Company

Location Bevard Studio, John H. Mulroy Civic Center 421 Montgomery St. Syracuse

When October 14-22

Runtime: 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission

Tickets $21

Review By Lauren Smart

Garrett Heater will get this playwriting thing down. The young, artistic director of Covey Theatre Company, a non-profit theater company in its second season, seems to be focused on writing historical dramas. This season’s opener “The Romanovs” shows Heater’s promise, as a theatrical Renaissance man, (he wrote, designed and directed this play), but it lacks a clarity of vision necessary for an evening of enjoyable theater.

Red cloths are strewn across the Bevard Studio stage and hoisted up into curtains to frame the action that follows. Tsar Nicholas II (David R. Witanowski), Empress Alexandra (Katherine Gibson) and family open the play sitting for a portrait, later mirrored by the tragic ending – acknowledgements of the conventions of both theater and historical retellings.

The set of "The Romanovs" sets the stage for the tragedy that follows. Photo Credit: Amelia Beamish.

But Heater’s re-imagining of the Russian Revolution for all its clever moves, falls short because it brings nothing new to light. The first two scenes of the play, which are clearly meant to serve as historical exposition are dull. Rather than jumping into the conflict, the characters do so much explaining and talking that the play immediately loses momentum.

In fact, the only character spurring the plot on is Bruce Paulsen’s Rasputin. One of the most interesting villains of all time, Rasputin uses a grotesque blend of sexuality and religious fervor to manipulate the royal family. He’s the young prince Alexei’s savior, who in turn is the only heir to the throne.

Rasputin is the ideal villain in "The Romanovs" onstage through Oct 22. Photo Credit: Amelia Beamish.

The first act focuses far too much on the politics of the situation, which grows insipid in the shadows of a good antagonist. The second act is monumentally better than the first, allowing Rasputin to take the spotlight both in the flesh and in the royal family’s conversation. But it’s too little, too late.

For the show’s flaws, Heater definitely has chops as a director. He’s focused on each moment in the play and has even pulled strong performances out of the young actors in the show. He takes advantage of the intimate studio space, by setting a pace for the show that encourages the actors to choose a subtle realism, rather than overacting.

“The Romanovs” is a play best suited for someone who is a fan ofhistorical soap operas like “The Tudors.” It has sex, family drama and political intrigue. Like any relic, this story just needs a little bit more polishing.

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