The Spanish Tragedy at The Mobtown Players

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Revenge. A dark, twisted and sinister emotion run afoul from the depths of scorn and tragedy; a human emotion vocalized when things go wrong. And despite springtime flooding costing them their theatrical space, The Mobtown Players are surging forward with the powder keg of revenge tragedies. The first of its genre, TMP proudly presents the Baltimore area premier of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. Adapted by Joshua and Kat McKerrow, this deeply moving tragedy is the first of its kind to bring violence and gore to the stage from the Elizabethan/Jacobean Shakespearean era.

Hieronimo (center-Frank Vince) reveals a scheme to Bellimperia (left-Kat McKerrow), Balthazar (right-Matthew Purpora) and Lorenzo (far right- Bill Soucy) while the Ghost of Don Andrea (background left- Megan Farber) and Revenge (background left- Shelby Monroe) observe. Photo credit: Joshua McKerrow.

Simplicity is the friend of Director Joshua McKerrow in keeping to the basics as far as scenic design and effects of lighting and sound. It is Costume Designer Kat McKerrow that really hones the focus on the originating time period of the performance with her elaborate, highly detailed, and intrinsically textured outfits. McKerrow—and her army of nearly a dozen costume construction crew—build fascinatingly authentic period pieces for everyone in the cast. Between Don Andrea’s chainmail and worn banner flags of battle, to the stunning full hooped gown in scarlet and black, McKerrow leaves no detail unattended to in regards to outfitting the characters of the show. Even the simple costumes, like the nighttime dressing gowns saved for Isabella and Hieronimo are tailored to the style of the era. McKerrow’s work grounds this production in its time and makes it authentic for those watching.

Joshua and Kat McKerrow’s adaptation of the play is a unique one. Trimming the production down to the bones, it keeps the essence of revenge without the entanglement of side plots and excessive expository moments. This keeps the play running smoothly with a modest pacing scheme to the scenes. The play’s only major downfall is that the size of Saint Mary’s Great Hall is truly enormous and at times the voices of the performers are swallowed up in its magnitude. This happens mostly when characters turn from the audience and their mouths are not facing to project outward. These moments aside, the show is well guided to move swiftly and deliver the idea of revenge without hesitation.

The acting all around in this production is solid. Hieronimo (Frank Vince) who inherits the notion of this ‘inverse/reversed’ Hamlet of stories creates a shockingly grounded presence on stage. Captured inside the emotional turmoil of the character, Vince expounds upon the plight of Horatio at great lengths; a display of true Elizabethan acting. His moments of madness (justifying the lesser used title of Hieronimo is Mad Again) are create a palpable sense of distress in the air. His lamentations are articulated and executed with precision, easily landing the tricky canter of the time’s meandering meter.

Abused and thwarted by various and sundry is dear Pedringano (Jeffrey Gangwisch.) With the physical mannerisms of a servant, Gangwisch embodies this turncoat character with an unusually awkward gait, making the character’s end even more jarring than average. Played the fool to the very end, Gangwisch’s demise is as tragic as the title of the show implies. Other physical and vocal performances of note include the King of Spain (Daniel Douek) who is a pillar of determination and calm, bursting only into an emotional storm near the end of the production. Isabella (Jennifer Hasselbusch) has a similar moment, appearing briefly save for her tumultuous outcry over her son Horatio’s death. Hasselbusch and Douek both have reserved characterizations that allow their momentary eruptions of feeling to punctuate the plot with emotional fortitude.

Lovers in a dangerous time does not being to describe Horatio (Rob Vary) and Bellimperia (Kat McKerrow.) Vary is only allowed a brief time in which to grow his character but the choices made make him a strong and suitable lovebird for the lovely Bellimperia. His violent skirmish in the garden sparks the pilot light for Bellimperia’s personally motivated revenge. McKerrow crafts an exceptionally striking presence upon the stage; at times horrifically creepy— particularly near the show’s conclusion as she stares with a lost burning in her eyes out over the audience, looking practically possessed. Her ability to manipulate the emotions of the character, fine-tuning them to the situation at hand and pulling them through a narrow needle-eye of a story arc creates for fine theatrical drama. Her ability to transition from magnetic chemistry with Vary’s character quite quickly into repulsion and disgust at Balthazar (Matthew Purpora) is also worthy of note.

Servant Pedringano (kneeling- Jeffrey Gangwisch) is threatened into betrayal by Lorenzo (center- Bill Soucy) and Balthazar (left- Matthew Purpora). Photo credit: Joshua McKerrow.

Purpora, making up one half of the villainous knaves in this production, albeit the lesser though more arrogant half, delivers his princely intentions with something akin to charisma. Blended into the backward workings of Lorenzo’s (Bill Soucy) schemes, his attempts to woo Bellimperia are classically narcissistic and haughty. Soucy, as the rakish knave, serves as a master conductor to these proceedings. Laying the track work for villainy and loathsome practices, Soucy’s brand of evil is translated as a disgusting event and by the end of the performance it easy to be seething with distaste for his character. His sharp textual delivery and vocal intensity enhances the negative attributes of his character’s existence, creating the epitome of sadistic evil captured inside a human body.

The carefully laid framework of the production involves Don Andrea (Megan Farber) and Revenge (Shelby Monroe) as guiding narrative forces; a unique hybrid between a protagonist and an observer. Farber’s opening monologue is delivered from a hallowed place within her; a silence radiating through her figure that creates a vocal stillness in her woeful tale. This moment sets the tone for the play and invites the audience to the perilous journey of revenge that lies ahead. Monroe, a physical embodiment of an emotion called forth from the bowels of hell, takes a terrifying and yet titillating approach to the character. There is nothing more easily possessed by revenge than a teenage girl, and Monroe makes that evident in her presence, delighting as these wicked deeds unfold before her eyes. At first her cheerful delight seems curious, but the longer it exists the creepier it grows until it is thoroughly disturbing. Though speaking only a handful of lines, her character’s importance and effect are strongly felt throughout the entire production; the lingering remnants of maniacal bliss in the face of death and destruction far too revolting to ignore.

Quite the impressive performance, particularly with the all the blood to be shed, The Spanish Tragedy has a limited number of performances so be sure to grab your tickets quickly.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes, with one intermission.

The Spanish Tragedy runs through July 26, 2014 at The Mobtown players playing in The Great Hall at Saint Mary’s of Baltimore—3900 Roland Avenue, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online.


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