Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Revenger’s Tragedy—The Elizabethan Revenge Society—N. Portland

“…Something Wicked This Way Comes”

This Elizabethan play is by Thomas Middleleton and directed by Ravyn Jazper-Hawke, with background music by KJ McElrath.  It is in performance at The Twilight Theater Company’s space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (limited parking in the church lot across the street), through the 13th.  For more information visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethanRevengeSociety/

During Shakespeare’s times and in his plays, revenge was a hot topic for shows.  It’s unclear why, but it seems that people just like having grudges against other family members, neighbors, the ruling party, etc.  Most have the Bard’s plays have revenge as a chief ingredient to his stories.  If it was missing from his tales, then not much of a story is left.  And, of course, most of them end badly.

This play seems to be a bit of a takeoff on the melancholy Dane himself, Hamlet, the poster boy for Revenge (served hot or cold).  In this guise, though, he is Vindici (Alastair Morley Jaques), whose true love was poisoned by the nasty Duke (Phillip A. Rudolph) because she would not submit to his lecherous advances.  In return, he carries around the skull of his beloved and swears vengeance on the old fart.

But the Duke does have a fair amount of fire power on his side, including his equally horny son, the smooth-speaking, Lussurioso (Laurence Cox), who is fixated on deflowering Vindici’s maiden sister, Castiza (Jessica Joy).  Their mother, Gratiana (Athena McElrath), might be persuaded, too, for the right price, in turning her daughter over to this family.  But Vindici’s loyal brother, Hippolita (Amy Gray), feels his brother’s pain and together they hatch a plan to avenge themselves on the evil Duke and kin.

And nasty they are, too.  The scheming Duchess (Kevin Newland Scott) is having an adulterous affair with the Duke’s bastard son, Spurio (Chris Murphy).  Their youngest son, Junior (Sean Christopher Franson) is a convicted rapist.  And the two other sons, Ambitioso (Joy, again) and Supervacuo (Tom Abbott) are concocting plans to do away with both parents.  But, in defense of both houses, “what family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  To witness how it all comes out in the end, you’ll just have to see it, won’t you?

As you might have guessed, this is a “deadly” play, but its saving grace is that it is performed with its tongue firmly embedded in its cheek (whether it was originally intended that way is unclear but it works).  And the addition of occasional, appropriate to the period, musical accompaniment by KJ McElrath on harpsichord and accordion, does lighten the somber mood as well.  Jazper-Hawke has kept the set sparse to enhance the actors and script.  And she has cast it well, too, as most of the actors handle the Elizabethan verse without a problem.

And I give them top marks for a program that describes character relationships so succinctly.  In a large cast show this is very helpful in clarifying roles and something other theatres should take heed of.  Their performances are having low attendance, so it would be ideal to give them a shot, as the story may not be everybody’s cup of tea but it certainly does have merit in the production of it.

Some of the stand-out performances are Rudolph, with his noble bearing and Scott (ala, Quentin Crisp from some years ago, who played women in drag, see the film, Orlando), who is very accomplished in portraying a female.  Gray is also very good at enacting the epitome of faithfulness and Cox as the “my shit doesn’t stink” sort of son is someone you love to hate.  But the finest of the evening was Jaques as the title character.  He captivates your attention every time he’s on and has just the right inflections, humor and expressions to keep you enthralled.  An actor who has a future on the stage if he continues in this field.

I recommend this production.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.