That guy in the corner over there, with the long tailcoat and wild black hair, that’s Beethoven. His student, Schindler, is warming his hands up before his big performance. In the opposite corner—you spin around to see it—Josephine de Beauharnais, ex-wife to Napoleon Bonaparte, is singing to herself, with her court of ladies, and folding strips of fabric into little birds.
Five exquisitely dressed Talleyrands lurk past you on all sides, plotting the future of France, rubbing their fingers pensively and muttering. You take a few paces backward to get out of their way, but Napoleon is the one you really have to watch out for. He and his army, off to wars in Egypt and Italy, will march right through you to get where they’re going.
Vainglorious, choreographed and performed with painstaking silliness by Applied Mechanics with a 26-person ensemble, plunges audience members bodily into the chaos of Europe after the French Revolution. You won’t get a seat—nowhere is safe to stand for long—but you’ll get a map, and a flowchart of the 90-some scenes which make up the fortunes, foibles and failures of France and its neighbors during the careers of Napoleon, Germain de Staël, and other VIPs.
Applied Mechanics, founded by Rebecca Wright and Maria Shaplin, have been designing and performing interactive, immersive, playful productions in Philadelphia since 2009. Vainglorious runs only five nights—Tuesday the 9th through Saturday the 13th—in the cavernous fourth-floor space at Christ Church Neighborhood House, and is part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. Tickets are cheap, and can be bought here