By Thomas Middleton; Directed by Rebecca Weiss
Produced by Spicy Witch Productions
Off Off Broadway, Classic Play
Runs through 5.21.16
The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Sarah Weber on 5.25.16
David Federman and Matthew Schott in The Revenger's Tragedy. Photo by Phoebe Brooks.
BOTTOM LINE: A young man consumed by revenge takes it upon himself to purge the ruling class of its corruption and immorality.
Every season Spicy Witch Productions continues to challenge our perceptions of gender and identity over time by presenting a classic play alongside a brand new adaptation. This season their writer-in-residence Annette Storckman, wrote the quick-witted tragicomedy Bonesetter: A Tragislasher as an adaptation of Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy. Once you’ve seen Storckman’s '80s-slasher-film-on-stage, you can return the next day and see how it compares to this classic text. Have our attitudes towards female sexuality changed at all since the seventeenth century? Or can one argue that The Revenger’s Tragedy was only one short step away from modern horror films, filled to the brim with suggestions about female purity and the consequences of sex.
Middleton’s story revolves around Vindici (David Federman), a young man who has grown a deep-seeded hatred for the Duke (Matthew Schott), a selfish man with an insatiable appetite for sex. Many years ago the Duke poisoned Vindici’s bride, and now the recent death of his father has put Vindici on his emotional tipping point. So, when he learns that the Duke’s eccentric son Lussurioso (Brandon O’Sullivan) is seeking assistance to obtain a young virgin he’s after, Vindici takes this opportunity to exact his revenge plot. Little does he realize that the virgin in question is his sister Castiza (Madison Welterlen). While Vindici is disguising himself as a procurer of virgins, the Duke’s step son Junior (Isaac Allen Miller) brazenly admits to raping the wife of a local Lord to the court. Although the Duke surprisingly suspends the proceedings, the Duchess (Cristina Ramos), Junior’s mother, is none too pleased with the Duke’s decision to keep Junior in jail. So, she vows to be unfaithful to the Duke while her daughters Supervacuo (Amelia Dudley) and Ambitioso (Alison Wien) plot to free Junior and climb the power ladder.
Mixed in this web of deceit, sex, and disguises are copious amounts of murder. Vindici not only chooses his victims based on their relation to the Duke, but on whether they contribute to the family’s penchant for corruption and immorality. Vindici even considers murdering his own mother Gratiana (Kimberlee Walker) when she accepts a bribe and turns her moral views upside down based on the promise of more jewelry. Though our dark protagonist is often justified in his many grievances, whether that gives him license to exact his own brand of judgement (outside the law) and leave a bloodbath in his wake is highly questionable.
Then again, this strong cast poignantly shows their characters’ varied faults and questionable sensibilities. Lussurioso is under the very delusional impression that just because he gives a woman nice presents it means he deserves to have her. And O’Sullivan finds a perfect balance between Lussurioso’s eccentricities, inflamed pride, and dim-witted foolishness that allows the audience to love the character enough to laugh at him…but still feel some sense of relief when he finally meets his bloody end. Federman has strong moments as well, especially when Vindici finally has the Duke alone and tastes successful revenge for the first time—the audience knows the young man is a far walk from sane, but in this scene Federman allows the character’s true madness to boil over.
Since The Revenger’s Tragedy is being presented in repertory with Bonesetter: A Tragislasher, Rebecca Weiss stages this production in the same 360° set up. Though The Revenger’s Tragedy doesn’t take advantage of the round nearly as much as Bonesetter does, the set up still offers the audience a similar immersive experience. We don’t just get to watch a bloodbath on stage, we’re in the splash zone. And allowing Vindici to pace in circles while addressing the audience adds to our perception of his insanity. Still, I do wonder if there were more opportunities to use the round to draw the audience even closer to the story.
The biggest drawback for me, however, isn’t how the space is used but how it’s lit. It makes sense to keep the stage dark to heighten the play’s suspense and horror, but there was an entire (and significant) scene towards the end between Vindici, Gratiana, and Castiza where the stage was so dark I found myself spending more time making sure I could see the actors than listening to them.
All in all, Spicy Witch Productions consistently presents thought-provoking and innovative works. If you are a lover of classics, or you’ve seen Bonesetter: A Tragislasher and couldn’t get enough of it, then you should definitely check out The Revenger’s Tragedy.
(The Revenger’s Tragedy plays at The Clemente at 107 Suffolk Street through May 21, 2016. Tickets are $20 for one show, $30 for both. For schedule and tickets visit spicywitchproductions.com.)
The Revenger’s Tragedy is written by Thomas Middleton and directed by Rebecca Weiss. Scenic Design by Caitlyn Murphy. Lighting Design by Yi-Chung Chen. Costume Design by Alexandra Rozansky. Hair and Makeup Design by Meagan Gorham. Props and Blood Design by Megan McQueeney. Sound Design by Andrew Tarr. Fight Choreography by Jon Meyer. Production Stage Manager is Frances Swanson. The Stage Managers are Niki Afsar and Liz Power.
The cast is Clio Contogenis, Amelia Dudley, David Federman, Meghann Garmany, Isaac Allen Miller, Brandon O’Sulllivan, Cristina Ramos, Matthew Schott, Kimberlee Walker, Madison Welterlen, Alison Wien.