There’s so much bounce to the blood-letting that it’s positively upbeat: a farce of a tragedy, really, or perhaps just a literal revenge against the formulaic tragedies.
The Revenger’s Tragedy is Hamlet without the whining. It’s just as poetic, just as full of asides and oddly accented syllables, but straight to the point. No solipsistic soliloquies, just good old bloody fun, eyeballs and all. It’s a brilliant adaptation, nothing less than innovative, and director Jesse Berger (on behalf of his Red Bull Theater) has one more notch in his classical belt.
Here’s how the blood gets flowing: Vindice, our “noble” revenger, disguises himself as a slave, Piato, in order to infiltrate the Duke’s home. He is swiftly contracted to procure the virgin whom Lussurioso, the Duke’s heir, lusts for. Because it’s a comedy, that virtuous woman is Vindice’s sister, Castiza, and the ultimate corruptor, once bribed, is his mother, Gratiana. Even as characters are beheaded and eviscerated, the farce continues: Vindice, as himself, is hired to kill Piato, and at one point is forced to recycle a previous corpse to carry out the façade. The cyclical and meticulous nature of the plotting is melodious, full of unyielding twists and clever ironies and comedic even at its most vile. There’s so much bounce to the blood-letting that it’s positively upbeat: a farce of a tragedy, really, or perhaps just a literal revenge against the formulaic tragedies.
The plot is simple and complex: simple because everybody is their most animalistic (killing or fucking, or both); complex because of all the various scheming going on. It’s not a problem for Berger though: his direction bridges all the chaos, even as scenes collide into each other (the scene changes literally overlap). In this hyperventilating style (never a wasted breath), The Revenger’s Tragedy opens with a choreographed rape, glorious and debauched, with a touch of the Greek chorus thrown in (the players are all masked: the anonymity is sinister). Even as it catapults from there through intrigue and emphatic lust (heads shoved into crotches for punctuation), Berger makes sure the inevitable bloodbath is just as bacchanalian as the constant sexual tension.
The visuals are also very appealing: the minimalist stage plunges far back, and uses every inch for effect. The set itself, made to appear unfinished, focuses attention on the actors and wardrobe (a fetishistic affair of color-coordinated rubber, fur and leather). Up close, the makeup’s a little too much, but on the whole, coupled with the use of modern dance and a sparsely used fusion of background music, the show comes off as trendy and slick.
What’s more, Jesse Berger has directed this as a traditional Jacobean play: actors gleefully ignore the fourth-wall and tempt the audience to sin. This has the double benefit of justifying some of the more cartoonish acting, which now gets by on pure verve. It’s an unnecessary safety: Matthew Rauch (Vindice) and Marc Vietor (Lussurioso) give such impassioned performances, they liven even the ostentatiously poor actors (like Petronia Paley). Rauch lends credibility to his mass-murders and is elegant, if not beatific, in his actions. Vietor’s self-obsession, down to the most nuanced mannerisms, is an exercise in adoration and guilty pleasure. And also of note: Daniel Talbott and Ryan Farley, who play the two younger, scheming, heirs to the throne, Ambitioso and Supervacuo. Think the Three (Two) Stooges, or at least what Larry, Curly and Moe might look like if they dressed like Goths, really tried to kill one another, and were still funny about it.
Yes, that’s right. Revenge, along with all the tongue-tripping fun of the 17th century English plays, is suddenly hip again over at The Culture Project: it’s good to be bad.
45 Below (Red Bull Theater @ The Culture Project): 45 Bleecker Street
Tickets: $15 (212-239-6200)
Performances (Closes 12/18): Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00; other dates vary
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.