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A CurtainUp Review
Women Beware Women

Oh the deadly snares
That women set for women, without pity
Either to soul or honor!
Everett Quinton    in
(L-R) Everett Quinton, Jennifer Ikeda, Roberta Maxwell and Kathryn Meisle in Women Beware Women
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Even if you swear you don't like 17th-century dramas, the Red Bull Theater Company's meticulous revival of Thomas Middleton's drama is worth seeing for its top-notch cast, its scrumptious confection of a set, and its exuberant interpretation.

Women Beware Women is actually a hybrid of sorts. It fuses a domestic tragedy to a revenge tragedy. The first scene indexes the domestic situation, presenting us with a tight-knit Florentine family: Leantio (Jacob Fishel), a modest clerk, Bianca (Jennifer Ikeda), his beautiful and well-born bride, and Leantio's mother (Roberta Maxwell). It's no happily-ever-after story, however. Leantio has just informed his mother of his elopement with Bianca. Her knee-jerk reaction is that his new patrician wife will grow restless in her modest surroundings and wander (in both the sexual and physical sense) from home. No sooner is her dark concern expressed, than the Duke of Florence (Geraint Wyn Davies) comes on stage and catches sight of the comely Bianca at a balcony window. This scene, quite reminiscent of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, holds the seeds to the revenge tragedy. The Duke soon seeks out Bianca, seduces her, and then openly keeps her as his mistress.

Superimposed on this central plot are a number of other romantic trysts and courtships. There's Isabella (Liv Rooth) , a young woman who can only marry with her father Fabritio's (Everett Quinton) approval, and Livia (Kathryn Meisle), his sister, whose love matches inevitably turn deadly. In short, the web of relationships becomes as inextricably tangled as the proverbial Gordian knot.

Adapted and directed by Jesse Berger, the play has been streamlined for an air-tight production. Without sacrificing the original work's integrity, Berger has smartly stripped away some of the arcane phrases and expressions in the dialogue, but keeping all of the juicy idioms and metaphors that make this social satire so vivid and timely. It's a true marriage of an old text to a modern voice, that makes Middleton a man of today.

The cast adds up to an ensemble that one and all would do a Broadway production proud. Roberta Maxwell, Jennifer Ikeda and Kathryn Meisle have indeed appeared appeared in many Broadway as well as prestigious Off-Broadway productions. Everett Quinton was a long time member of the famous Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Tony Randall Theatrical fund, this is a lavish show by anyone's standard's and imbues the play with pictorial eloquence and rich dramatic texture. Costumer Clint Ramos has outfitted the cast in colorful period costumes, a gorgeous array of textures and styles. Set designer David Barber has created an elaborate set featuring plush satiny clouds and elegantly wrought balconies. One never forgets here that the play is the thing, but the set and costumes add authentic ambience.

Middleton was famous for his masques and pageants, and this staging of Women Beware Women certainly validates him as a virtuoso of this stylized theatrical form. The spectacular masque, rightly placed the in the final scenes, works like an exclamation mark. It's most breathtaking moment has Livia, in the guise of Juno, magically descend from the ceiling, attended by Cupid. Without spoiling the ending for you, Livia-Juno has a real battle on her hands in confronting the bone-deep malice of the various women, either victims of her plotting or their own tainted designs. This final scene also prompts seriousl reflection on the semantic import of the play's title. It may well be summed in the popular adage: It takes one to know one.

To sum up, Mr. Berger's production captures Middleton's genius for delineating women's complex psyches, especially in their sexual politics and social situations. The entire show is this side of enchantment — alternately funny, frightening, realistic, surrealistic, and even downright silly— in short, lots of fun but also a warning that the fairer sex is sometimes not so fair.

Editor's Note: Some previous Red Bull productions Curtainup has seen and admired are The Revenger's Tragedy and Edward the Second

Women Beware Women
Written by Thomas Middleton
Adapted and directed by Jesse Berger
Cast: Roberta Maxwell (Mother of Leantio), Jacob Fishel (Leantio), Jennifer Ikeda (Bianca), (John Douglas Thompson (Guardiano), Everett Quinton (Fabritio), Kathryn Meisle (Livia), Al Espinosa (Hippolito), Liv Rooth (Isabella), Alex Morf (Ward), Jeff Biehl (Sordido), Jonathan Fried (Cardinal), Geraint Wyn Davies (Duke). Figures in the Masque: Roberta Maxwell (Hymen), Jeff Biehl (Hebe), Anthony Bagnetto (Ganymede), Shannon Wicks (Cupid).
Sets: David Barber
Costumes: Clint Ramos
Sound: Jessica Paz
Lighting: Peter West
Composer: Scott Killian
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Choreographer: Tracy Bersley
Aerial effectsL by Paul Rubin
MasksL by Emily DeCola
Stage Manager: Nicole Bouclier
Running time: 2 hours plus a 15 minute intermission. Red Bull Theater at Theater at St. Clement's 423 West 46th Street 212/352-3101
From 12/09/08; opening 12/14/08/closing 01/09/08.
Tuesday through Friday evenings @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sundays @ 3pm & 7pm.
Tickets $20 to $50.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on December 11th press performance
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