"Theodora: An Unauthorized Biography" is a funny, involving and thought provoking play by Jamie Pachino. It's the current offering at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
There really was a sixth century Byzantine Empress Theodora. Opinions about her range from deep contempt for her as a courtesan who got lucky, to high praise for her as a canny politician and even pioneer of civic rights. Playwright Jamie Pachino presents the Empress in a dialog with a quintet of historians of various periods and persuasions. Timothy Herron played Theodora's contemporary and hashest critic Procopius. Phil Kasper brought in the perspectives from the dark ages circa 1090. Benji Loudermilk represented the slightly more enlightened vantage of 1590. Matt Holzfeind looked down on things from 1890. Following on these gentlemen and frequently opposing them was Jennifer Biggio. Not only was she from 1990, but she was a woman. I enjoyed all the historians, but Jamie Pachino has given most of her work in characterization to Procopius and the woman from 1990. I sometimes wished for a little more characterization for 1090, 1590 and 1890.
Theodora herself was played by Jennifer Wire. Wire, as Theodora, was artful, powerful, sexy. In a particularly interesting turn she was also alternately touchingly confused about her own story and sometimes indifferent to it. This seemed to be taken in stride by the male historians, but was particularly frustrating to the 1990 female historian. In the world that playwright Pachino creates, truth is more a quality than an abstract quantity.
Throughout the production director John Kinzer treats his ensemble like a musical chamber group. Some speeches are solos, some are unison pieces. Some lines are begun by one actor and passed along to others to finish. There's a nice mix of talk and drama with the security of a solid script but some of the flair of an improvisation.
"Jamie Pachino's "Theodora: An Unauthorized Biography" plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at eight and Sunday afternoons at two through October seventh.