A CurtainUp Review
The Changeling by Elyse Sommer
I suppose that I should own up that I'm not particularly enamored of Jacobean drama. That much said, I will admit that The Changeling co-authored by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley is one of that era's more interesting examinations of sexual obsession and the ease with which one sin leads to another. It cleverly intertwines the two parallell stories of a virginal gentlewoman and the wife of an insane asylum warden. Dramatic conflict and meaty acting opportunities abound which no doubt accounts for the many 20th Century revivals. Which brings us to the current revival presented by the Theatre for New Audience at St. Clements' Church.
It is the most visually astounding modern dress production of any old classic you're like to see in a while. It is so avant-garde, in fact, that the play and the players take a back seat to Robert Woodruff's often disturbing imagery. Bloody crotches are everywhere. A woman sitting next to me put her head down during a scene in which women strapped to hospital gurneys are subjected to clitorectomies by the asylum's guardian who all the while keeps up a conversation with his employer, the asylum keeper. I was as horrified as my neighbor but too mesmerized to turn away from the dance-macabre movement of the women's mouths as each one took her turn to be subjected to this horrific procedure. There are also old-style glass enclosed telephone booths used as padded cells, connecting hallways, to conduct love trysts and commit murder. There are even actual telephones--as well as microphones, cigarettes, modern musical rhythms and choreograpy.
What does it all add up to? Should you go?
The large cast deserves all-around commendation, with Marian Hinkle and Christopher McCann particularly outstanding as Beatrice and De Flores. But Director Robert Woodruff's very unique vision overrides everything--a positive or a negative, depending upon how your feel about avant-garde directing. At the risk of sounding like a cop-out reviewer, this is a 50-50 proposition and really calls for a Siskel/Ebert I did-I didn't approach. You may hate it, or you may be bowled over by the sheer visual derring-do of it all The woman sitting next to me, hated it. Her friend loved it. I was more exhausted than exhilerated. My husband thought it was unforgettable. Like it or not, you won't be bored--though a twenty minute cut would go far to eliminate some restiveness.
Since so much of this producton relies on choreography, I've invited a guest reviewer who happens to be a choreographer to give us her impressions from that point of view. Stay tuned. To read A Choreographer's Viewpoint of The Changeling go here P. S. If you go to see The Changeling during its limited run (it closes 3/15), get there early enough to read the very thorough synopis included in the program.