Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Spanish Tragedie by Thomas Kyd, Baron's Men at the Curtain Theatre, October 17 - November 9, 2013

Spanish Tragedie Thomas Kyd Baron's Men Austin TX

Austin Live Theatre review

by Michael Meigs

Villainy was afoot and revenge was hot at the tidy Elizabethan-style Curtain Theatre on opening weekend, but Karen insisted that I bundle up as if I was going hiking in the winter mountains. And she was right; the temp must have sunk to around 50 F. by the time C. Robert Stevens as Hieronimo had coaxed the malefactors at the Spanish courtinto the play-within-a-play that's the climax of The Spanish Tragedie.

This costume drama by Thomas Kyd leaves almost as many dead and dying littered about the stage as Shakespeare did, between ten and twenty years later, at the conclusion of Hamlet . Kyd's work established the fashion for the revenge tragedy and endured on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages until the Puritans shut the theatres in 1642.

The Spanish Tragedie Thomas Kyd Baron's Men Austin TX
Robert Stevens (photo: The Baron's Men)
The Baron's Men in Austin are proud to claim that theirs is the first 'original practices' staging in North America of this influential work that comes close to the status of a classic. As usual, they do a gorgeous job of it. The bare boards of that Elizabethan stage become a display case for lots of actors wearing the creations of some of the town's most accomplished costumers. Cherie Weed's casting and energetic direction keep the Tragedie lively throughout, a surprising and gratifying blend of comedy and revenge. The company enjoys its pre-Halloween shiver-makers -- they have twice staged their own compendium titled Medieval Macabre -- and this lengthy but never dull evening fits very well into the run-up to Halloween. Not least because it features the hovering figures of Death (Jennifer Fielding) and Revenge (Leanna Homquist) throughout the action.

Kyd was certainly playing to his public when he situated these elaborate deceits and plots at the Spanish court. Londoners feared and hated the Spanish, who sought to attack England with their glorious armada in 1588 (within five years, plus or minus, of the play's first staging). The playwright presents a triumphant Spanish king (Michael Saenger) who has just defeated the Portuguese, taking prisoner Crown Prince Balthazar. With Spain's dominion reasserted, the court is eager to unite the two kingdoms with an arranged marriage between the Portuguese Prince and Bel-Impera, Spain's lovely royal niece.

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