Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Duchess of Malfi"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"The Duchess of Malfi"

by John Webster
Directed by David R. Gammons

Assistant Director Rebecca Weber
Scenic Design by David R. Gammons
Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg
Costume Design by Ann-Alisa Belous
Sound Design by Cameron Willard
Resident Properties Master
Violence Designer Ted Hewlett
Production Manager Jason Ries
Stage Manager Adele Nadine Traub

Daniel de Bosola.......................Bill Barclay
Antonio Bologna.........................Jason Bowen
Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria...Michael Forden Walker
The Cardinal..........................Joel Colodner
The Duchess of Malfi...................Jenny Israel
Cariola/Julia...........................Marya Lowry
Delio..........................James Patrick Nelson
First Officer/Ensemble.............Karl Baker Olson
Second Officer/Ensemble............David Rosenblatt

My mother used to make this distinction: "That's not funny; it's just silly!" I was an egotistical brat and saw no difference, but I can now: "silly" is insisting that the overblown Guignolesque bombast written for the post-Elizabethan stage deserves the term Jacobean TRAGEDIES. That's as ridiculous as insisting that the movies of Roger Corman or John Waters are just as serious as the works of Orson Welles. I found it impossible to believe anything of the knee-jerk motivations of Act I of "The Duchess of Malfi" (directed for A.S.P. by David R. Gammons, whose production of "Timon of Athens" I found sublime), and during the series of Act II murders and butcheries the only thing that prevented me from bursting again and again into giggles was the uncomfortable fact that no one else would be laughing with me. Let me cite a few examples:

A man gives an order to kill his sister and when it's carried out he goes mad and, thinking himself a wolf bites off a man's nose and spits it on the stage. At one point, about to lug yet another body off the stage, someone complains that he's turning into (I paraphrase) a mere undertaker. The play ends with four bodies writhing on the stage in various states of dying, most of them gasping out elaborate soliloquies as they go. Another man sees a shadowy figure and thrusts a knife in its back, only to discover he has, My God, murdered his friend and benefactor; but in the throes of remorse he abruptly insists to the audience (I paraphrase) "Oh, come on, I've seen a lot of coincidences like this in other plays!" And that's not the first time in this same play that "but this happens in a lot of other plays too!" is shot out as an aside. Frankly, I think this justification for action is there only to chastise King James I, who was doubled over in the aisle laughing hysterically at the absurdity of it all. I'm almost certain the original reaction to all this bombast was not "Oh the horror of it all!" but "Good show, but more blood! Give us more blood!"

I don't mean to insult the company --- still a favorite of mine in a crowded and bubbling Boston theater scene. They lurk and curse and scheme and avenge and double-cross one another as though the over-inflated emotions in the lines didn't cry out for comic timing and takes worthy of the Marx Brothers. It takes more than half a dozen bodies to make a tragedy, so I hope these serious actors get a chance, say at the final cast-party, to play it all for laughs and let it all hang out. And I'd love to be there if they do.

But I am a strange old man.....


"The Duchess of Malfi" (8 January - 1 February)
@ Midway Studios, Fort Point Channel, BOSTON MA

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