Shakespeare’s contemporary, John Webster, depicts a rich, overripe world in which a secret marriage unleashes treachery and vengeance, and madness lurks beneath the glittering surface.
Nominated for TWO 2009 Elliot Norton Awards:
Outstanding Director and Outstanding Scenic Designer.
Nominated for THREE 2009 IRNE Awards:
Best Set Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Sound Design.
Winner of the 2009 IRNE Award
Best Lighting Design: Jeff Adelberg.
But the best reason to see this Duchess of Malfi is that David R. Gammons is directing it. Both in ASP’s Titus Andronicus a couple of years ago and in The Lieutenant of Inishmore at New Repertory Theatre earlier this season, Gammons has shown that he knows exactly how to stage a gorefest, with or without buckets of blood. So it’s not surprising that his Duchess of Malfi has plenty of violence, but not a drop more than it needs. ... Gammons has slashed the text with abandon, leaving all the juiciest bits and also highlighting the stark central tale ... Gammons sets all this on a long, narrow runway down the middle of the handsomely rugged basement space at Midway Studios, with heavy paneled doors looming at either end and the audience arrayed, like spectators at a grisly tennis match, on both long sides of the stage. We can't help watching the other spectators as well as the action, and their expressions of shock, wincing pain, or incredulity become part of the play itself. As for the action onstage, it is bold and visually dramatic, with a heightened stylization that feels exactly right for the extreme passions boiling throughout. From the first image - the Duchess, swathed in black veils, gazing impassively at us from center stage - through the crisp deployments of servants, the feverish swirling of a madmen’s dance, the curiously beautiful execution with thick scarlet ropes, and on to the final deadly tableau, each moment is at once an arresting image and an action charged with energy.
The production exceeds the company’s always-high creative standards, and David Gammons’ direction makes the work accessible to a modern audience. ... The set (by Gammons), light (by Jeff Adelberg), and sound (by Cameron Willard) all mesh flawlessly, creating a tone and an atmosphere that is part haunted house (dig the human bones beneath the floorboards: they don’t come into play in the story, but they do tell us a thing or two about life at court) and part family driven political thriller. ... Gammons reigns it all in, imposing a rigorous, often geometrical discipline on the play’s blocking and overseeing split-second timing on lighting and sound cues. Such careful preparation pays off: events move along with the momentum of a Greek tragedy, charging along unstoppably. ... Under Gammons’ direction, and in the unique Midway Studios location, "The Duchess of Malfi" is pure theatrical spectacle.
T.S. Eliot famously opined that John Webster saw "the skull beneath the skin." In David R. Gammons’s staging of the Jacobean dramatist’s "The Duchess of Malfi" for Actors' Shakespeare Project, we see the skull beneath the stage. In the director’s scenic design, the 1614 revenge tragedy is played out on a long runway overhung by crystal chandeliers and bookended by gilt-edged doors. But beneath the narrow strip of a playing space are strewn caches of bleached bones: skeletons in the basement — perhaps because, in a milieu so murderous and corrupt, the closets are full. ... As with his plasma-free Titus Andronicus for ASP, Gammons’s staging is stylized. At the center of the runway sits a plexiglass chair occupied at the beginning by Jennie Israel’s duchess ... At ASP, her palace a prison where the comings and goings are propelled by jangling music and the repeated clanging of slamming doors, she dies a stoic, almost triumphant death — far nobler than those of the less savory characters who follow her like dominoes in a work that could as easily have been inspired by an Elizabethan tavern dare to one-up the death count of Hamlet as by a jaundiced world view.
Actors’ Shakespeare Project
Photos: Stratton McCrady