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The Revenger's Tragedy

A Partaker's Comedy

By Thomas Middleton
American Shakespeare Center, Blackfriars Playhouse, Staunton, Va.,
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Actors' Renaissance Season

Part of the ASC's Actors' Renaissance Season, wherein the players use only prompt copy, have only days to mount the play, and do so without a director, this Jacobean “tragedy” is tragic only in the sense that almost a dozen people lie dead on the stage at the end. It's also tragic in the grief that drives Vindice to mastermind so many murders in so many different ways (including fooling the duke into kissing the poisoned lips of Vindice's dead fiancee's skull).

Production picture of Benjamin Curns holding skull
Benjamin Curns as Vindice, grief-stricken mourner and scheming revenger, holds the skull of his dead wife in The Revengers Tragedy at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Photo by Tommy Thompson, American Shakespeare Center.

But the play progresses from one comic set piece to another, highlighting, again, the comic capabilities of this troupe. John Harrell again stole the show as Lussurioso, the preening, self-centered, self-important son of the Duke. Gregory Jon Phelps mingled gullibility and cunning in his portrayal of the bastard Spurio, and Sarah Fallon exuded raging sexuality in seducing him. Benjamin Curns played Vindice, easily transitioning from grief-stricken mourner to scheming revenger, from anger to comic foil, and through it all he was paired in potent chemistry with Alyssa Wilmoth playing Vindice's brother, Hippolito (this woman plays men better than some men do).

The climactic scene was perhaps the funniest of the production, as the maskers prepared to strike fatal blows with their knives upon four diners sitting around a square table, and the diners, seeing the upraised knives above their fellows across the table all pointed at the same fatal moment—great choreography perfectly timed. Another highlight was the Revenger's Rap performed by Curns and company during the second interval. Would they have a record of that!

Eric Minton
March 23, 2009

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