Posterity has not been kind to Jacobean playwrights Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Cursed with the unfortunate spot on the historical timeline between Shakespeare and the Restoration, neither has enjoyed the reputation he deserves. If Bottom's Dream Arts, the young, cutting-edge company known for its dark, introspective Shakespearean productions, has its way, Middleton and Rowley's fortunes may be on the rise. Their cynical commentary on human behavior brings together two intertwining plots, which address the question, "Who is more dangerous -- the institutionalized madmen or those running loose on the outside?"
Beatrice Joanna, the daughter of the wealthy and powerful Vermandero, is engaged to Alonzo, a young nobleman, but falls in love with Alsemero. In desperation, Beatrice convinces her father's slave, DeFlores, to kill Alonzo,
by leading him to believe she is in love with him. After the deed is done, Flores demands Beatrice Joanna's virginity as his payment. Predictably, madness and murder result. The subplot takes place in the local insane asylum run by Alibus and his slave, Lollio. Alibus is pathologically jealous of his beautiful young wife, Isabella, whom he confines to the asylum to shield her from male attention. He doesn't bargain for the determination of Antonio and Franciscus, two members of Vermandero's household who feign insanity for access to the fetching Isabella.
Director Barry Childs encouraged his hard-working ensemble to explore the depths of their complicated characters, bringing the beautiful, if often unsettling, verse to life. The black-box stage, without any set, and the generous use of stage blood created a forboding ambience. The strangely unflattering black-and-red costumes by Tim Kelleher(particularly those worn by the women) and the harsh, unforgiving lights achieved the desired effect of making the attractive ensemble look vaguely clammy and unnappealing. Eerie, haunting incidental music by Kurt Leege raised the emotional pitch still higher.
The performances were on a very high level, informed with confidence that comes from total immersion in the text. Rachel Russell's Beatrice Joanna was sexually powerful and mysterious, as was Reginald Metcalf's sleazy,
threatening De Flores. Steve Salotto's Alsemero was noble, handsome, and romantic. Michael Nathanson's athletic over-the-top Lollio stole every scene he was in. Bill Green was a commanding Vermandero, and Jennifer
Salmons was a lively Diaphanta, Beatrice Joanna's servant. Jonas Abry's Alibus was alternately funny and scary, and Janna Rosenkranz's Isabella was a delightfully languid vamp. Adam Rothenberg's Antonio and Mark Ellmore's Franciscus were fabulous physical comedians, and Michael Healey was an earnest, charming Tomazo.
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Copyright 2001 Julie Halpern