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A CurtainUp Review
Dido Queen of Carthage
By Les Gutman
This story has been told countless times and in manifold ways. Christopher Marlowe entered the crowded field with Dido, Queen of Carthage. It is an early stab at what became the fine art of blank Elizabethan verse.
<Dido is thought to be the first play Marlowe wrote, although it was the last to be published. There is little record of its having been staged -- none, so far as anyone can tell, in this country. For this reason alone, Target Margin's production should be applauded, even if one of its greatest achievements is in explaining the play's lack of popularity.
It can't be gainsaid that Marlowe's poetry is formidable. Yet it also quickly becomes clear that the impression of Marlowe's language far outweighs what we would today call his dramaturgy. The opening act establishes the conflicting involvement of the gods in all that is to follow; it then details the arrival of the erstwhile Trojans on Africa's north coast. Most all of the second act is then devoted to Aeneas telling the story of the fall of Troy -- over 1200 words in all! When Dido finally interrupts to say "O end, Aeneas! I can hear no more," she's reading the audience's mind.
David Herskovits deals with all of this by giving us a visually rich, inventive staging that is at once faithful -- most all of Marlowe's poetry remains, albeit annotated by the occasional, frequently explanatory but almost always audience-bound comment -- and irreverent -- his actors have their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. The marriage, alas, is not one blessed by the gods.
The arch reading produces some pretty good laughs, but they are at the expense of the story-telling. As nothing is played as if it means much, we're left with a carnival of entertainers rather than a cast of characters. This is not to suggest the performances are inadequate; they are overwhelmingly fine. As Aeneas, Adrian LaTourelle has good command of Marlowe's poetry, yet his character -- sporting long johns and a helmet -- often seems to be casting about in the wind. Everyone seems to be having a good time, if not a great deal of conviction.
This is not by any means accidental. Mr. Herskovits' Carthage seems to be a stop on the Vaudeville circuit -- his performers mugging and striking campy, pseudo-Greco-Roman poses throughout. A funny thing happened on the way to the forum indeed. Even Dido's death is rendered comic, as cast members surround her pyre with cartoonish flames on sticks, which they thrust forward and back as the fire rages.
David Zinn's quite interesting set design employs two movable "stages" -- mini-theaters on which much of the action takes place. With much glitter and faux-flourish in evidence, it underscores the Bedouin caravan to which Herskovits has attached us. Kaye Voyce's eclectic costumes fir right in with the gags as well. Go, prepared to laugh rather than be moved. Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.>
CurtainUp's review of Kit Marlowe