Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

The Maid's Tragedy/Epicene/As You like It

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

The Maid's Tragedy/Epicene/As You like It

Article excerpt

The Maid's Tragedy, Epicene and As You Like It, presented by the American Shakespeare Center at the Blackfriars Playhouse, Staunton, Virginia, 3 January-5 April, 2014

The Maid's Tragedy. With Gregory Jon Phelps (Amintor), Sarah Fallon (Evadne), Abbi Hawk (Aspatia), René Thornton, Jr. (Melantius), Jonathan Holtzman (King), Josh Innerst (Lysippus), John Harrell (Calianax), Tim Sailer (Diphilus), Allison Glenzer (Diagoras, Olympias, Dula), Andrew Goldwasser (Cleon), Chris Johnston (Strato), and Tracie Thomason (Antiphila).

Epicene. With John Harrell (Morose), Gregory Jon Phelps (Epicene), Josh Innerst (John Daw, Page), Allison Glenzer (Madame Haughty, Mute), Andrew Goldwasser (Dauphine), Jonathan Holtzman (Clerimont), Tim Sailer (Truewit), Chris Johnston (Amorous La Foole), René Thornton, Jr. (Tom Otter), Tracie Thomason (Mistress Otter, Parson), Sarah Fallon (Madame Centaure), Abbi Hawk (Mistress Trusty, Cutbeard).

As You Like It. With Tracie Thomason (Rosalind), Sarah Fallon (Celia), Jonathan Holtzman (Jaques), Gregory Jon Phelps (Orlando), John Harrell (Touchstone), René Thornton, Jr. (Duke Frederick), Josh Innerst (Duke Senior, Corin), Chris Johnston (Oliver), Tim Sailer (Adam, William, Sir Oliver Martext, Hymen), Allison Glenzer (Phoebe, Dennis), Andrew Goldwasser (Silvius, Charles, Amiens), Abbi Hawk (Audrey, Le Beau).

The American Shakespeare Center may be best known for its replica of the Blackfriars Theater and for the company's commitment to a certain number of original practices. These include the provision of seats for spectators along the sides of the stage itself and their playing 'with the house lights on' so that the audience is as visible as the actors throughout the performance of a play. The resident company performs several plays each season in repertory, generally in a spirit of youthful exuberance. The actors present a deliberately informal stance to the audience, putting them at ease and encouraging an atmosphere of festivity. Most members of the company play one or more musical instruments and cover popular songs before the show and during the intermission (musical virtuosity is not the point). I mention these characteristics because they seem to be related to some of the strengths as well as the limitations of the performances I witnessed on 14-16 March.

The three performances discussed here were part of the American Shakespeare Center's annual 'Actors' Renaissance Season', a three-month addition to the regular season in which the resident company performs several plays in repertoire without directors or designers, using props and costumes from the theater's stock. This collaborative, actor-centered approach to rehearsal and performance is closer to original practices than the regular season's use of directors, designers, etc., a point emphasized in the printed programs as well as in the actors' addresses to the audience before the performances. It is also daring for the company in that they have little time to rehearse together; at a 'talk-back' following the performance of As You Like It, the actors reported that they had had only twenty hours of rehearsal before the opening performance. In addition to the three plays discussed here, the season included Timon of Athens, a staged reading of Nahum Tate's adaptation of King Lear, and Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters.

The Maid's Tragedy

The performance of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy that I witnessed on 14 March 2014 was the production's opening night. Costuming was minimal: a mix of modern dress and costumes from the company's stock. Calianax wore a uniform reminiscent of a nineteenth-century postman, Melantius appeared in camouflage fatigues, and the King usually wore a cape draped over a dark suit with a red tie. Aspatia always appeared in black, including her male disguise in act 5, while Evadne appeared much of the time in sexy nightclothes. The men usually wore knives at their sides instead of swords, with some loss of the sense of prestige and honor which is such a characteristic concern for Beaumont and Fletcher's characters. …

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