Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Mad World, My Masters

Daniel Kennedy in The Taming of the Shrew, 2010.  Photo by Tommy Thompson.
I have always enjoyed the works of the prolific Thomas Middleton. Not only are they great on stage, but they are as equally entertaining on page. I read A Mad World, My Masters in anticipation of seeing the ASC's production and knew I would be in for a wild ride. Quite simply, this is the rowdiest, randiest, most bawdy thing I've seen on stage at the Blackfriars and I've seen every production since January 2009. It's a tour de force of Jacobean dick and fart jokes.

A Mad World, My Masters is typical of a Jacobean era satirical city comedy (a genre I love). Like many of these plays, the plot surrounds a down on his luck youngster pulling the wool over the eyes of older, established "gentlemen." In this case, Dick Follywit (Greg Phelps) is playing his uncle, Sir Bounteous Progress (Daniel Kennedy) for a fool. In a subplot, we have Sir Penitent Brothel (John Harrell) attempting to cuckold Master Shortrod (HA!) Harebrain (Rene Thornton, Jr.). Tying the two together is the "virgin" Frank Gullman, who sells her virginity to all comers (see, I can write like Middleton) and who aids Brothel and Follywit in their exploits.

There are quite a few standout performances in this production. Daniel Kennedy steals the show with his South Florida inspired Sir Bounteous Progress. He nailed "old man" like I've never seen. You have to see the play just to see the costume! And just the little moves and shaking, dotage gestures were enough to keep me enthralled. Greg Phelps tackles the role of Follywit with gusto and gives one of his best comedic performances. He is aided by the dubious mannered duo of Mawworm (Chris Johnston) and Hoboy (Benjamin Curns) who are somewhat reminiscent of Dicky and Coover from Justified, and the delightful Sarah Fallon. John Harrell is wonderful as the hypocritical Brothel and he totally pulls off a Rick Santorum look (intentional, I presume) with the Bible, sweater vest and nerd glasses. Allison Glenzer kills it as Frank Gullman's Jersey Shore inspired bawdy mom and, of course Miriam Donald is brilliant as Gullman. Thornton turns in a great performance as the duped Harebrain and Brandi Rhome is excellent as always in the role of Mistress Harebrain.

This play is definitely adult oriented, so keep that in mind if bringing kids along. The night I saw it there was a young girl on stage, which resulted in a few cringe worthy moments. Peter Saccio, the acclaimed Dartmouth Shakespeare scholar was sitting behind me at the show I attended and someone asked him his opinion and he laughingly summed it up: "Filthy, just filthy!" If you see it, and I highly recommend you do, be prepared to laugh extremely hard and leave your sensibilities in the lobby. If you are not a fan of the bawdy Jacobean city comedies, go see Much Ado twice in its stead.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fletcher and Beaumont's Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding

Allison Glenzer in The Malcontent, 2011.  Photo by Tommy Thompson.
The American Shakespeare Center has a long and successful history with productions of plays by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, most notably A King and No King, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle. The ASC is currently reviving Beaumont and Fletcher's tragicomedy Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding and the result is much more comedy and much less tragedy. If you enjoy a good deal of laughter with your "tragedy," make sure to check this one out.

Greg Phelps is terrific as the titular character, Philaster, a Sicilian whose throne has been usurped by a Calabrian regally portrayed by Rene Thornton, Jr. Philaster has not been banished, and has a place in the King's court, much to the King's displeasure. Philaster is so popular among the people that the King cannot banish or kill him, posing many attendant problems for the King. Unfortunately for him, Philaster is in love with the King's daughter, Princess Arethusa (wonderfully played by Sarah Fallon). Because of this, the King decides to force her to marry the Spanish Prince Pharamond (a show stealing performance by Aidan O'Reilly). Of course, Arethusa is secretly in love with Philaster and the two conduct their romance in secret with the assistance of Philaster's serving boy Bellario (played by the superb Miriam Donald). Meanwhile, Pharamond is having an affair with Megra (a wonderful performance by Allison Glenzer). Of course, chaos, hilarity, and deception ensue as plots and confusion are uncovered.

O'Reilly, as Pharamond, really stands out in this production. ASC costume designer Erin West and I debated whether he looked more like Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride or King Charles II: let's go with both. His accent is terrific in its silliness (he even sings one song using it). You can tell he really enjoys the role. Jeremy West also has a moment to remember as a fellow that hearkens back to Falstaff (complete with foolish attendants), and when he came on stage I had to do a double take as I thought it was Rick Blunt! West and Ben Curns also have an outstanding pre-show skit that is not to be missed.

Next up in the Actors' Renaissance Season is Thomas Middleton's A Mad World, My Masters. I always enjoy Middleton's plays, and look forward to seeing this production of the play.