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Dress of Fire

Austin Pendleton is the king in this fanciful and superbly presented take on the Trojan War with an iPhone, gorgeous costumes and some cool performances.

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Paul Carrazzone as Alexander and Elena Rusconi as Helen of Troy in a scene from “Dress of Fire” (Photo credit: John Dallas Phelps)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]The epic myth of the Trojan War gets a fanciful treatment in playwright Nina Kethevan’s Dress of Fire.  Lasting about 95 minutes, it still packs in a lot of incidents with 12 actors sometimes declaiming classical text often directly to the audience. The visually superb production makes for a rather pleasurable experience even if one can’t keep track of everything, grows restless listening to long soliloquies or is not so enamored of the genre.

When the audience enters cast members are frozen in a silent panorama on the contained all white stage set with white blocks. In the center is a black framed window where later behind it actors will march by, cleverly enacting battle scenes. Soon, thick wafts of white smoke are emitted through the theater’s center aisle.

The black-suited, bespectacled and bookishly handsome young actor Daniel Yaiullo emerges, as the Time Traveler. With a quirky, magnetic and twitchy manner, Mr. Yaiullo is the contemporary narrator wryly explaining the plot and taking selfies with his iPhone. Yaiullo is a welcome presence who pops up a few times during the presentation and attaches red origamis that comically represent approaching battle ships to the theater’s black walls. He also delightfully plays Orhan, a valet at the palace who slyly serves at a banquet for three kings.

Ms. Kethevan’s skillfully streamlined narrative’s dialogue is suitably formal, stiffly conveying events of the dense plot with fitful success.  The Time Traveler is a neat device adding enjoyable levity.

Chris Brandt, James Edward Becton, Austin Pendleton, Alexandra Laliberte and Timothy Doyle in a scene from “Dress of Fire” (Photo credit: John Dallas Phelps)

We’re in a “Distant Time” at King Priam’s palace in Troy with his wife Hecuba and their children. They are Cassandra, Hector, Alexander and Poly. Onder, the son of Priam’s cousin, is in residence as well. Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world is also around. She was the Queen of Sparta but left King Menelaus for Prince Paris of Troy. This instigated the Trojan War which was an attempt to bring her back to Sparta. The kings of Haiti, Babylonia and Ethiopia pop in for a droll gathering that has shiny gold goblets. The household has two big yappy dogs played by hooded actors.

Director Ioan Ardelean’s staging consists of a thrilling series of tableaus, precisely choreographed movement sequences and well-acted exchanges that are all optically arresting. Mr. Ardelean talents are most evident in perfectly maneuvering the large cast on the tight playing area.  Ardelean’s cumulative achievements strive to bring clarity to this complicated saga.

Integral to the production’s beauty is costume designer Everett Clark’s lavish creations. There are flowing charcoal ensembles embellished with glittering appliques, tailored gleaming white tunics and Hecuba’s awesome red dress. The visiting monarchs are decked out in exotic splendor with grand headpieces, colorful robes and pointy slippers. Mr. Clark’s sense of style is supreme.

Lighting designer Allison Hochman bathes the production in shimmering brightness combined with dramatic dim flourishes. Ms. Hochman’s sound design is equally as effective with triumphant musical selections and subtle effects.

Lindsay Gitter as Cassandra and Austin Pendleton as King Priam in a scene from “Dress of Fire” (Photo credit: John Dallas Phelps)

The distinguished actor Austin Pendleton’s idiosyncratic presence infuses his regal portrayal of Priam with tremendous depth and bursts of low-key humor. Mr. Pendleton effortlessly delivers several lengthy speeches with seasoned flair, further enriching his performance.

With the mesmerizing aura of an Ingmar Bergman heroine, the Norwegian born Alexandra Laliberte is enthralling as Hecuba. Ms. Laliberte’s mellifluous vocal delivery and penetrating gaze are among her beguiling traits.

Sleek, having flowing raven hair and possessed of a slight native Italian accent, Elena Rusconi is bewitching as Helen with her alluring countenance.  Ms. Rusconi assuredly convinces as the object of cataclysmic fixation.

The forceful company also consists of Lindsay Gitter as Cassandra, Bryan Marshall as Hector, Paul Carrazzone as Alexander, Tara Steinberg as Poly, Caleb Carlson as Onder, James Edward Becton as the King of Ethiopia, Chris Brandt as the King of Haiti and Timothy Doyle as the King of Babylonia.

Dress of Fire is not that emotionally involving but its snappy theatricality is stimulating.

Dress of Fire (through April 29, 2018)

13th Street Theatre, 50 West 13 Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit

Running time:  one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission

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