The Revenger's Tragedy's a Compelling Work in Progress from festina lente

Categories: Curtains, Theater
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Taylor D. Dewey
The hardworking grad-school geniuses of ASU Theatre's Interrobang program who brought us And What She Found There (which is being revived for one night only on Tuesday, November 9) have formed their own local company, festina lente, and their current workshop, The Revenger's Tragedy, is scary and sexy, partially masked, and even includes some candy -- but it's not Halloweeny at all. And not for people younger than 16, as the ticketing site states.

It's always good news for audiences when well-trained, talented artists share the passion of their vision early on, when it's fresh and a little quirky.

Even if their philosophies, techniques, or new works don't wind up enduring, the evanescent moments of such a company's birth are not to be missed. Something's going to move you, and probably in an unfamiliar way.

The play is outdoors, so bundle up and bring a chair or a blanket. And the site is not just a random, funky, low-budget choice -- it works in several important ways to energize the performances and reinforce the themes of this complex, dark and bloody Jacobean morality tale, trimmed to its horrible essence and punched up with surreal multisensory imagery and contemporary analogs.

Speaking of topical entertainment with an expiration date, the original version of The Revenger's Tragedy, whose author chose to remain anonymous but is considered by most scholars to be playwright Thomas Middleton, was neglected for centuries after its 1606 première. Go figure -- a play about the overthrow of a corrupt regime that was immediately followed by the real-life overthrow of a corrupt regime made even the newly victorious corrupt regime a little nervous.

(British monarchs were quite hands-on with the censorship in those days, particularly during the years of turmoil when churches and other warring factions played volleyball with the Crown. The ruling control freak du jour made frequent use of the Lord Chamberlain's Office's regulatory powers to keep saucy and seditious works off the public stage. I bring this up mostly because how cool would it be to have today's theaters full of iconoclastic spectacles that make the powers that be mess their pants?)

The plot of The Revenger's Tragedy is a kind of hyper-Hamlet story: Vindici's fiancée was killed by the lecherous old Duke, and Vindici enlists his family to craftily wipe out the whole dynasty, all of whom are all equally awful raping, whoring, conspiring, murdering meatsacks, but Murder Is Wrong, so this does not end well for Vindici & Co. You can read the original here, archaic spelling and all, but plot, schmot -- the gripping part of festina lente's work in progress is in the details.

For one thing, every actor in director Joya Scott's cast is a finely tuned instrument at the top of his or her game. Without the aid of microphones, let alone a building to shield and channel their voices, they render every word distinctly audible while employing the dynamics that lend emotion and variety. I can't remember the last time I could hear all the dialogue in a play, amplified or not.

The two performers I really couldn't look away from (and who also made me feel it might be literally dangerous to) were Courtenay Cholovich as Vindici (who is a woman in this production, another far-from-arbitrary choice) and Matthew Watkins as her nemesis, the Duke's randy, psychotic son, Lussurioso. Cholovich was every bit as captivating heaped in rags and nearly mute in And What She Found There. Even if you didn't or won't get to see that, you'll discern her range here in that she is inherently tiny, blond, and adorable, but all the more monstrous for it as Vindici, and a complete match for Watkins' lanky, screeching fuckbomb. The pair's rage-packed fuses burn, at diametrically opposed rates and temperatures, toward equally inexorable detonations.

Hanging out with this violent little gang in a preschool playground after hours is a sort of urban nightmare come true. In addition to all the echoes of nostalgia, shattered innocence, futile hope, and brutal violation that it brings up (or maybe that's just me), the setting gives the cast real trees, real mud, real walls to bounce against -- a sense of relative permanence in relative transience. (You couldn't tell this morning that they were there last night.) The autumn wind sweeps the crowd as if on cue, rustling leaves in unpredictable directions and making people look around and huddle closer. Good luck with that; you're still gonna die.

The Revenger's Tragedy continues through Saturday, October 30, at the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education's preschool playground, between the Payne and Farmer buildings near the southwest corner of Arizona State University's Tempe campus. You may order $5 advance tickets here or donate what you can (more is always nice!) at the, um, door.

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Crip Tip of the Week: Arizona Jewish Theatre Company is presenting its 2010-2011 season at Phoenix College's John Paul Theatre, which is a pretty sweet venue, well-established as a professional and accessible house. Even though the Maricopa Community Colleges in general are shining examples of outreach to the disability community, I find I'm always a little antsy about parking at an institute of higher learning -- it seems far too easy to get a ticket even when I'm not enrolled.

But I spoke with the folks at Phoenix College Public Safety, and they shared a helpful mnemonic: "White lines and no signs." In other words, stay out of the faculty spaces, which are painted a different color, and don't park in a space marked with a sign that obviously sets it aside for someone you aren't. There are numerous designated handicapped-only spaces (with white lines) in both the north and the west parking lot -- and the west lot is really only a few steps (or spins) farther from the theater than the north one is. So have fun, and let AJTC know if you need other accommodations.


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