Hip Shot: The Duchess of Malfi
Mead Theater Lab – Flashpoint
Monday July 14, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday July 16, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday July 19, 2 p.m.
Sunday July 20, 2 p.m.
Sunday July 20, 7 p.m.
Monday July 21, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday July 23, 7:30 p.m.
They say: Corrupt politicians, a cunning spy, and the elusive Duchess all play a razor-sharp game of cat and mouse – rife with dangerous secrets, illicit affairs, intrigue, madness and murder. Big Brother lurks around every corner in this Jacobean masterpiece.
Rachel K’s take: Secret marriages! Poison bibles! Twins! Adultery! Political intrigue! Surveillance! A man convinced he is a wolf! No, these are not plot points from the next season of Scandal, but instead The Duchess of Malfi, a Jacobean tragedy written by John Webster.
We Happy Few returns to the Fringe Festival after last year’s magisterial Romeo and Juliet with another pared down play of yore, filled with fantastic actors breathing life and complexity into each line.
In The Duchess of Malfi, the eponymous Duchess (Lindsey D. Snyder) is a considerate and clever widow who decides to marry Antonio (Drew Kopas), an adoring steward below her class. If you’re not already seeing the targets on these two’s backs, then you haven’t accustomed yourself to the world of tragedy – where one complimentary adjective will at least require a loss of limb.
It is the Duchess’ two brothers, a corrupt Cardinal (Matthew Pauli) and an unhinged Duke (Brit Herring) who are interested in the separation of limb from body, at least in the abstract. When it comes to the dirty work, they rely on a man named Bosola (Rafael Untalan). And it is in Bosola that the play finds its most fascinating character, a man who seeks justice for himself and instead dispatches vengeance for others.
Untalan’s Bosola has some of the play’s most iconic lines, but manages to say just as much with his facial expressions. Each time he takes the Duke’s cash as payment for intelligence, Untalan conveys the insult that goes along with the reward. He recognizes that he’s on the wrong side, and loathes himself for continuing to abet the brothers at the cost of the Duchess.
As played by Snyder, the Duchess is the kind of badass who knows that “men are valued high when they are most wretched,” but still seeks the best in others. Despite her goodness, she never comes across as flat, perhaps because of her regal carriage.
The Duchess of Malfi makes excellent use of darkness—some scenes use only flashlight, others no light at all—to convey a growing melancholy. The play constantly discusses the corrupting power of anger to poison our better qualities, and the darkness takes over the theater as well.
The staging is at times reminiscent of horror film tropes, with daggers slowly and menacingly making their way toward beloved characters. “Turn around, turn around,” I want to warn them, but of course, as the Duke says, “Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust, like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust.”
See it if: You want an intimate setting for corruption and intrigue.
Skip it if: You prefer your theater with happy endings.