BOTTOM LINE: A sexy and sinful modern revamping of John Webster's 1613 play The Duchess of Malfi.
Sex and scandal rock the NYC elite in Malfi, Inc. to the core. The lives of the multi-billion dollar Malfi children could not be more fraught with problems, no matter how glorious their all-powerful existence must seem to the mere humans watching from below. It is no small feat to stay sane when one has to simultaneously manage a family fortune, negotiate Apache helicopter sales to the Saudis, stay off the tabloids' front pages despite the numerous trysts and illegitimate children, and deal with a constant threat of the severe schizophrenia of younger siblings. It's impossible for them to know whom to trust with all the power hungry and sex addicted men and women throwing themselves at them, only to betray them at a moment's notice.
You almost feel bad for the three Malfi children. At least you would, if they weren't such controlling bloodthirsty slightly-psychopathic bastards. It's society's fault of course. Anything goes when you need to maintain the status quo. With power such as theirs, they can't help but believe there are no consequences for their actions, except the nuisance of the cleanup after. How satisfying it is to watch fate prove them otherwise.
Malfi Inc., adapted by Bethany Larsen from John Webster's 1613 classic The Duchess of Malfi has received such a thorough modern treatment that it is almost unrecognizable as a Jacobean tragedy. It is designed to tailor to the Gossip Girl generation of twenty-something New Yorkers. I had some resentment that such an already gripping classic is only considered accessible to today's younger audience after it has had every single detailed changed, at a loss to character, language, and structure. However, any such hesitation was completely forgotten by the pure, raw enjoyment of the whole thing.
Human nature has rarely looked so deliciously primal. The Milk Can Theatre Company holds little back in its staging: the threats are only the least bit veiled, the cleavage is barely covered, and the violence explodes swiftly. Despite it's modern overhaul, Malfi Inc. captures the spirit of 17th century drama and pushes the spectacle of human depravity to the limit, to the delight of everyone watching. I challenge anyone not to get a kick out of the incredulity of the play's end as the empire collapses with a most satisfying crunch.
Despite its modest lighting by Wilburn Bonnell and set by Kacie Hultgren, and the limitations of the small and awkwardly shaped stage, Malfi Inc. shines under Julie Fei-Fan Balzer's fast-paced and precise direction. Malfi Inc. is recommended and will be remembered for its fun and scandalously sinful energy.
(Malfi, Inc. plays at Theatre 54, 244 West 54th Street, through November 21, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7PM, and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets are $18 and are available at theatermania.com or by calling 212.352.3101. For more show info visit milkcantheatre.org.)