Friday, December 12, 2014

The Maids’ Tragedy—NW Classical Theatre—SE Portland

“Strange Bedfellows”

This revenge drama is written by Beaumont & Fletcher and is directed and designed by Barry Kyle (a director with the Royal Shakespeare Company of England).    It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave. through January 4th.  For more information, go to their site at

These playwrights wrote during the time of Shakespeare and this play bears some resemblances to his Histories and Tragedies, notably Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Macbeth.  They all have elements of political ambitions of their characters and the back-biting and scheming that goes on behind the scenes to achieve those aims.  The jockeying for position and the deceit upon deceit and treachery upon treachery would make even Richard III stand up and take notice.

The plot has to do with a proud, honorable soldier, Amintor (Steve Vanderzee) who is given a bride, Evadne (Brenan Dwyer), by his King (Grant Turner, Artistic Director for NWCT) as a reward for his loyalty and his valor in battle.  But it is also an arranged marriage for political reasons, which was not uncommon during this time, to unite two warring factions of his country.

But, although he is pleased as punch to have this young, desirable woman, she has other plans, for she has her own vengeance that must be satisfied.  Also there is the little matter of the spurned, former girlfriend of Amintor’s, Aspatia (Melissa Whitney), who is now shamed because of this rejection and her place in the pecking order, diminished.

And the brothers of Evadne have their own agenda.  Melantius (Tom Walton), the chief instigator, discovers that all did not go well on the wedding night and so they plot against the King, but all the time trying not to lose face at Court.  Even the head of the King’s army, Calianax (Grant Byington), a clever but cowardly chap, jumps back and forth with his loyalty, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Needless to say, all does not go well with some of the main characters of the drama, as the body count will show by the end.  To reveal more would be telling, so it is up to you to discover the rest.  But, if you will keep the above plays of the Bard in mind, you have a rough idea of the bumpy ride you’re in for.

The staging of this show by the director, Kyle, is remarkable.  To have this complex story played out, with so many different settings, on an essentially bare stage with a few props, and not have the audience get confused as to where they are, is genius.  Also, there is an intensity that the actors must sustain for the two hour plus show, in which they succeed amazing well.  And, to not get lost as to who’s doing what to whom and why, speaks to his ability to focus on the little, well-oiled gears to ensure that the machine as a whole runs well.  Bravo, Barry Kyle!

All of the cast does well, considering they must be focused at all times on the story at hand because the audience is right next to them.  Dwyer’s character, a major woman’s lib icon for the time, is a powerhouse, beautiful & sexy, but deadly.  This actor is convincing on all these fronts.  Vanderzee evolves from a naïve soldier to an awakened rebel in short order.  This journey is worth observing in his competent hands.  Turner, as the King, is at his oily best, reminding me of his charming but poisonous Richard III (under Kyle’s direction).  He is always worth watching onstage and, as the King, a man you love to hate.

Walton has perhaps one of the most complex roles, as a thinking man, who his torn in his political alliances and yet acutely aware of the inner workings of the realities hiding just beneath the surface.  A honorable man in dishonorable situations.  Well played by this actor.  And Whitney is always interesting to watch.  She manages to draw your attention to her every time she’s onstage.  There is something strong and yet vulnerable about the way she portrays characters.  Another intriguing performance by her.

I recommend this fine, stylized production, especially for the powerful performances.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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