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Reg Rogers in Cellini
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
John Patrick Shanley's latest bit of bravado is his retelling of the life of the Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini. Directed by Shanley with all the histrionics of a VH1 "Behind the Music" documentary, Cellini is this playwright's attempt to merge his own mind and art with that of a famously wild historical figure.

Adapted from Cellini's autobiography as translated by J. Addington Symonds, Cellini the play lays out Cellini the man in quasi-chronological order, with all the regard for playwriting of a TV commercial. Set 480 years in the past, at a time when all art was sponsored, shaped and pressured by the Catholic Church and titled nobility, Cellini is a portrait of a Renaissance artist as modern-day rock star. (Ho-hum, z-z-z-z, haven't we seen this before?) Such a play is to be expected from John Patrick Shanley, who loves to see the world through olive-colored skin. The author of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Four Dogs and A Bone, and Italian-American Reconciliation for the theater, not to mention the Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck, Shanley moves well within the world of Italians. In that sense, he is at home here, sending the remarkable actor Reg Rogers careening across the stage in the title role as Cellini's life unfolds in more detail than we ever need to know.

Set first in Rome, where Cellini wins praise as a great goldsmith, our story soon moves to France. Here, under the auspices of Francis I, Cellini continues his art. Homesick, he eventually returns to Italy--specifically, to Florence, where he acquires fame as a sculptor. (The giant, bronze "Perseus and Medusa" is considered his great achievement.) In his dusty travels, Cellini beds any number of gorgeous models and young boys, and he seems to love picking fights with just about anyone. Think of any number of rock stars here, and you'll get what Shanley is after.

Adrianne Lobel's set for Cellini is a marvel of renaissance design, with a large dome dominating the stage. Martin Pakledinaz's costumes are richly authentic to the period, yet hint at the chic and modern. Cellini's costumes, in particular, make him look as if the only thing he's missing is an electric guitar.

Reg Rogers and Jennifer Roszell in Cellini
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The Italian accents of the cast members are all over the map, except for Reg Rogers, who attacks his accent as if he were a pizza maker. This large, handsome actor commands the stage with a sweaty swagger and a toss of long hair that is a celebration of maleness. In Rogers' impersonation, Cellini is always man's man--whether he is withering in a prison cell, celebrating a moment of unbridled passion for his nude model (the gorgeous Jennifer Roszell), or steaming with lust for his teenage, male assistant. This Cellini is no Greek god; he's Marcello Mastroianni circa 1963.

Cellini is very flawed. Too many characters simply walk on, announce themselves, then retire to the sidelines. And Cellini seems over-celebrated, as if the author were making much too much of his struggle and enlightenment. The play's last moments, concerning the creation of "Perseus and Medusa," are melodramatic. Overall, the impression is that Shanley should not be encouraged in the writing of historical dramas.

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