Death abounds in The Maid’s Tragedy. Be prepared for an avenging angel with a message and actions against the vicious power of a King and lascivious misogynist cultural values in Brave Spirits Theatre’s vigorous production of revenge theatre, The Maid’s Tragedy. There is a plenitude of calamity and spilt blood in this DC area premiere of a play first published in 1619, written by a duo of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.
The Maid’s Tragedy is no mere morality play about issues from a time gone-by; built upon one-dimensional arch-types representing darkness and light. Under the robust, effective direction of Angela Kay Pirko, The Maid’s Tragedy is forceful, determined and at times comically bawdy as it explores what Pirko’s calls the tragedy of “Maidenhood itself – in the prizing of feminine chastity, in the owning of female bodies in the control of men’s desires over women’s will” in her director’s note.
Under Pirko’s assured touch, the hallmark of Brave Spirits work over the past five years is clearly evident: “verse and text work, violence, audience contact and intimate productions” as described by Artistic Director Charlene V. Smith.
Characters, both female and male, are wronged; seriously wronged in The Maid’s Tragedy. The questions raised in the production are not just about wrongs and no agency for women, but how in an honor-bound society punishment to evil doers can be meted out, even if the evil-doer is the King.
In The Maid’s Tragedy, the King of Rhodes (a disquieting, verbally bullying performance by BST veteran Ian Blackwell Rogers often with the demeanor of major creep) has used his unlimited powers to victimize and dishonor the subjects in his court. For this King, everyone is a pawn to be used and abused. Men are sent off to war or made a cuckold. Women are sexual toys to be maltreated and discarded at his whim. But be assured there are righteous consequences in store for the Kind of Rhodes. As the King finally pisses-off the wrong subjects and plots are hatched against him.
How did the King go too far with his callous treatment of several of his noble-class subjects? Well, he breaks the engagement of a betrothed couple who are deeply in love, Aspatia and Amintor. He substitutes another noblewoman, Evadne, to become the sham bride of Amintor. Evadne is the sister of Rhode’s greatest warrior Melantius. What is key: the testosterone fueled King wants to cover his on-going affair with Evadne. She is not expected to have marital relations with her new husband. From this plot point, the production dives deeply into how the King might be punished and by whom. It is a pounding ride into the unexpected, led by those injured and maltreated, both female and male, who are seeking out justice.
Evadne is played with authority by Charlene V. Smith. Her soul, as we first see her, is far from “as white as Heaven.” At first we see Smith as a cold, calculating presence. But after her forced marriage to Amintor she repents “her secret sin,” vowing to restore her family’s honor as she reveals her victimhood at the hands of the King to her husband and others; a life that was “so leprous.” The character Melantius is played with a stately distinction emotional vitality, masculine decency and dimensionality, from a slow-to-outrage John Stange.
The wronged one-time betrothed Aspatia is given an on-stage dignity by Victoria Reinsel. Her victimhood at the hands of male authority is generally quietly wrought and heart-breaking as she comments out-loud, “It is unjust that men and women should be matched together.” She is no easy touch in her reactions to the crime done to her by the King. How will she survive what has been done to her by the powerful is as a key to the production’s arc even though others in the show have large amounts of dialogue and more time before the audience.
The cuckold nobleman Amintor, who discovers on his wedding night that his wife is the King’s lover, is acted by James T. Majewski. Majewski portrays Amintor with a gentle, sensitive though weedy manifestation knowing he is in way over his head. He is a character with little maneuver room out of a bad situation.
Several other key characters that deserve mention include Calianx, the father of Aspatia. As played by Gary DuBreil making his BST debut, the characterization is of a pathetic, flimsy man with one remarkable piece of dialogue, “Strange that I should be old and neither wise nor valiant.” Greg Atkin’s Strato, Steward to the King, is a way too over-the-top comical counter weight to all the dark drama the audiences witnesses. Often enough he is with a fan in his hand, showing off a flick of his wrist with generally a pointed delivery of a sarcastic comment to make.
The setting for the BST production of The Maid’s Tragedy is the Sanctuary at Convergence, in Alexandria, Virginia. The church setting provides an unusual backdrop for the proceedings with the audience sits in the pews watching all the evil and punishments taking place. And in a faith-based venue, the audience can easily wonder who will be left to go to all of the funerals that are witnessed.
Eric McMorris’ set design uses the beautiful features of the Sanctuary setting from pulpit to the aisles, from floor to burnished high wooden plank ceiling. But, there are weaknesses of the church setting. A last, critical scene has major weaknesses to overcome, since beyond the front two rows of the pews the events were difficult to see beyond the first two rows. One other issue, at times voices flew high into the wooden ceiling of the venue to disappear. Others times voices had a most lovely small echo. E-hui Woo’s lighting design used the Sanctuary’s own lighting grid attractively.
The many scene changes of The Maid’s Tragedy were agreeably accomplished before the audience with original chants and music composed and music directed by Zach Roberts.
Realistic and close-in fight scenes were developed by veteran local Fight Designer Casey Kaleba. Costume design by Heather Whitpan gave off the essence of each character including their place in society quite well, even on a budget.
If righteous payback in a vicious world whets your appetite, then you are right for taking in The Maid’s Tragedy.
If you want to trace evil from five centuries ago to current times then Brave Spirit has well-conjured more than plenty of heartbreak, betrayal and revenge in its sober, and I expect tightened-up over its performance run, production of The Maid’s Tragedy. A tyrant is dispatched, but that does end the proceedings as others, including the victims, have stiff consequences to suffer. What may have be next for Rhodes then, or current social systems now, is left for us to ponder.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission.