The Massacre at Paris recounts the story of the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre, which began in August of 1572, during which tens of thousands of Huguenots were murdered by Roman Catholic fanatics. There were a large number of Huguenots in Paris at the time, attending the wedding of Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV of France) to Margaret, daughter of Catherine de Medici, Queen Mother of France and mother of King Charles IX. This situation probably gave Catherine, a manipulative fanatic, and her reluctant spouse the impetus to begin planning the genocide, which eventually spread throughout France during a series of civil wars from 1562 to 1598. These wars were known as the Wars of Religion because, like most wars throughout history, they erupted due to intolerance - an excuse for ethnic cleansing. This was a bloody forerunner of Kosovo, Bosnia, Nazi Germany, etc.
The play is beautifully written in expressively lyrical verse. Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare's, and there are language similarities. Perhaps because of the 36-year span that Marlowe was attempting to cover, though, the play is not too well-crafted. There are so many murders, it is impossible to keep their chronology straight. (Apparently, this script is the only known copy of Marlowe's original play - a truncated version it is assumed.)
There were some moments of potential dramatic power, which were not always well-served by the cast. Most of the performers, even though they spoke clearly, did not seem to have a sense of the rhythm of the verse or the meaning of the words. Having said that, the 12 actors who doubled, tripled, and quadrupled up to play 46 characters are to be commended for their stamina, which effectively got them through a challenging piece.
As for the performances - they ranged from the audible (no small achievement in young actors today) to the thoughtful and charismatic. In such a large cast one is forced to pick standouts: Alta Morice (Catherine) gave a consummately moving performance; Douglas Gregory (the Duke of Guise)'s interpretation was powerful, although at times could stand some modulation for even more dramatic effect; Gregory Contreras (Charles IX/Loreine/Mugeroun, etc.) was adequate, especially as Mugeroun; and Natalie Gold (Margaret/Admiral's Serving-Man/Duchess of Guise etc.) had a commendable sense of versatility in one so young.
Mr. Dailey's direction was certainly smooth and imaginative, given the small space in which he had to work. And therein lay the problem. One could see the respect Mr. Dailey had for the play, but is it wise to choose such a small arena for such a big work? Inevitably, some aspects seemed rather amateurish - there were some moments so melodramatic that they almost trivialized the tragedy - perhaps another forerunner of today's desensitizing of violence.
The lighting was not given a specific credit, but most likely it was the stage manager Michael Drayton who designed and executed same - an excellent achievement, given the available tools.
The less said about the costumes (again no specific credit listed),
the better. Except for Catherine's accurate period costumes, the
rest were an untidy mix - representing the worst of all the centuries.
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Copyright 1999 Sheila Mart