Poor Lucrezia Borgia. Reputedly a promiscuous poisoner, she actually got a bad rap, at least according to Kathrine Bates' one-woman show "Evil Legacy: The Story of Lucrezia Borgia," which takes a revisionist gander at arguably the most notorious woman in history.
Scholars largely agree that Lucrezia's misdeeds were greatly exaggerated. Indeed, as Bates and co-writer Ted Lange point out, Lucrezia's reputation stemmed primarily from the company she kept--namely, her fantastically corrupt family. Her father Rodrigo, who became Pope Alexander VI, remained an extravagant orgiast throughout his papacy; her megalomaniacal brother Cesare, who sexually molested her for years, was the prototype for Machiavelli's "The Prince." A political pawn and a sexual victim, Lucrezia endured the murder of her beloved second husband and separation from her children before ultimately perishing in childbirth.
Under Lange's assured direction, Bates turns in an elegant performance, ably handling several different voices and dialects as she charts Lucrezia's progression from liveliness to disillusionment.
Heavily expository, the piece is also occasionally disingenuous: Would Lucrezia really relate her life story as well as potentially incriminating information about her paranoid kinsmen to a couple of newly employed chambermaids? For the most part, though, this is exposition intelligently handled. Besides being a juicy retrospective of the Renaissance, rich with dropped names and scandal, it is also a portrait of a woman without options, one who has been unjustly demonized by history.
* "Evil Legacy: The Story of Lucrezia Borgia," Theatre 40, campus of Beverly Hills High School, 241 Moreno Drive. Mondays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Ends July 8. $12. (213) 876-8980. Running time: 2 hours.