The scene is a North African desert punctuated by long Corinthian columns and the phallic thrust of the gun turret of a tank. Theodore Michael Dolas’s design in the current production by Dramatic Women evokes an eerie landscape with an eternal moon and stars where anything can happen. Our first encounter is with a soldier who has been blasted out of his tank by an explosion-could it be that we are in Iraq, as the title, The Last Days of the Empire, suggests?
The soldier (Matt Tavianini) is not American, but rather a Nazi from World War II. He then meets a mysterious Roman from the 4th century, Synesius of Cyrene (Tom Hinshaw), who engages him in a discourse about death and dying. Enter a blinded American oil publicist (Tiffany Story) from the 21st century-a witty tart with a Texas twang. Since she is dying, she decides she might as well go out with a bang and makes love with the handsome Nazi solider. However, their coupling is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the soldier’s wife, Petra (Devon Bell), a torch singer from Berlin.
Can anyone help us make sense of this madness? Perhaps Hypatia (Sylvia Short) can enlighten us. After all, she was a famous mathematician who was stoned to death by an enraged Coptic Christian mob. But then one remembers that this is a Bob Potter play, and thus a place where time and location and reason all co-exist in a topsy-turvy theatrical conundrum.
Walking out of Center Stage into the cold night air, one is struck by an epiphany. The Roman Empire, the Third Reich, and, of course, our own American descent into madness-don’t all empires end up in the trash bin of history?
The audience is treated to a marvelous showcase of talent from the actors. Tiffany Story’s over-the-top character jives well with Hinshaw’s witty classical repartee, Tavianni’s stolid soldiering (he’s the straight man) works with Sylvia Short’s erudite posturing as Hypatia, and above all, the evocative femme fatale persona of Devon Bell sings very well indeed with all. Maurice Lord’s steady direction puts everything together in this consummate eruption of comedy and tragedy.