A dazzling final image can often make a viewer forgive and forget any number of sins committed earlier in the piece. The closing tableau of the Independent Theatre Company's Revenger's Tragedy was almost such an image, a visual feast in which four dead Dukes littered the stage, surrounded by a bloody Danse Macabre -- in which white skulls in red brassieres danced lasciviously, surveying the carnage. As the lights dimmed on the befuddled new Duke, Antonio (George Rex), nothing remained but their eerie laughter. But stunning though it may have been, it could not make up for the previous two-and-a-half hours of over-acting, in which the majority of the players delivered their lines in a sustained ear-splitting yell, and the rest in a wooden monotone.
The Revenger's Tragedy is, to be honest, an almost impossible play to stage. On one hand, it seems a seriously intentioned, if overblown, tragedy; on the other, a farcical satire of Jacobean theatre itself, in which limbs were lopped off with abandon, blood flowed freely, and disguise and mistaken identity contributed to the confusion. But rather than making a clear choice, director Todaro presented a rather muddy blend of the available options, offering, as a result, a rather poorly acted melodrama.
Chief among the yellers was Vindice (Brian Frailey), who has sworn revenge against the Duke for the deaths of his father and his beloved, whose skull he has toted around for nine years. Seth Rosmarin, as his brother Hippolito, matched him shout for shout. The wooden camp was headed by their mother Gratiana (Julie Parent) and the Duke himself (George Rand). The latter did have a moment of superb quiet reflection late in the play, however, which did much to redeem him. That particular soliloquy was one of the few such speeches in which the actor did not step to center stage and loudly declaim to the audience -- it was hence a welcome relief. The only actor who truly mastered the language was Rajesh Bose, as Spurio, the Duke's bastard son.
Like the final tableau, however, the visual aspects of the play were beautifully handled. The set (regrettably uncredited) consisted of two large curving metal staircases, surrounding a modern throne, set against torn blood-red velvet curtains. The stylized costumes (Anne F. Murphy) were well designed and beautifully complemented the set, with the sole exception of Gratiano and Castiza's bizarrely out-of-place paisley prints and cardigan sweaters. Sound design, also effective, was by Brian Patton. With such a visually powerful production, it was disappointing that the acting did not measure up to the designers' visions.
Also featuring Daria Balling (Castiza), Neil Casey (Lussurioso), Carole Manley (Duchess), Peter Brown (Ambitioso), Brian Gillespie (Supervacuo) and Robert Brennan (who played both the Duchess's youngest son, ``Junior,'' and a roving, skull-headed mime).
Copyright 1996 Sarah Stevenson
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