Who, precisely, is the title character in Brave Spirits Theatre’s production of The Changeling, by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, is left open to interpretation. The text of the play speculates on the question but does not provide a definitive answer. Director Charlene V. Smith takes that tone of ambiguity and plays with it brilliantly in her approach to the script. She takes a late-Renaissance play that features violence, misogyny, and sexual assault as major plot elements,
John Webster is, perhaps, an even better patron saint for Brave Spirits than William Shakespeare: he brings both the verse, and the violence with The Duchess of Malfi. Katie Culligan brings the Duchess’ power from her first silent moments on stage. She is strong and self-possessed, charming and beautiful, grounded and passionate. Her performance is closely nuanced at every moment.
The villain of the piece is Ferdinand, her brother,
For a world turned upside down as 2018, Director Charlene V. Smith has crafted a riveting, provocative, explosive Coriolanus. “Are we even capable of not harming ourselves?” she asks in the director’s notes, echoing Tori Boutin as citizen of Rome: “We willingly consented to his banishment, yet it was against our will.”
Smith’s Rome is not a pinnacle of civilization. It’s violent and dirty, its citizens easily provoked to engage every whim.
The natural orders are ours to make. Gender is a sphere. Women are women regardless of what kind of women they are. Does it make you a bad feminist or a bad woman if your version of feminism and supporting women is not the same as someone from a different generation, from a different race, from a different background, from a different socio-economic standpoint? The Trojan Women Project, devised by Rachel Hynes and the ensemble,
Charlene V. Smith bookends Doctor Faustus with two magnificent, and very different, speeches. She begins with arrogance borne of intelligence, full of both wit and ennui, seeking greener pastures beyond this world. She ends broken, despairing, hopeless, crying out to heaven and hell. Her performance as Joan Faustus is insightful and incisive, precise and passionate.
The bridge between the two is Hollis Evey as Mephistopheles, who grants Faustus her every worldly wish in exchange for the immortal soul that Joan doesn’t believe she has.
Now is a time to speak, I harken! Can my heart consent to let my tongue throw out such words? Such words as Jacobean Comedy? Quizzically oxymoronic in its nature, the notion that something humorous came out of the era of brutal bloody tragedies often circling like flagrant vultures around things like depravity and incest is preposterous. Until you see A King and No King, appearing now as the lighter half of The Incest Rep at Brave Spirits Theatre.
Let’s face it: Parma is a nasty, nasty place. It’s got people cheating on their spouses, and plots of revenge, even before it gets all incesty. Which, of course, it does, this being part of Brave Spirits’ Incest Rep, along with A King and No King, by Beaumont and Fletcher. Those Jacobeans liked their plays dark, and that’s perfect to help Brave Spirits’ pledge of “Verse and Violence”.
The most available bachelorette in Parma is the beautiful Annabella,
Jessica Lefkow is, indeed, “fire and air” in Brave Spirits Theatre’s brilliant, bold production of Antony and Cleopatra. She is riveting every moment she is on stage, evincing the kind of charisma that the fabled Egyptian queen used to enthrall two great Roman generals. One was Julius Caesar, who died in the eponymous play. The other is Mark Antony, played with passion by Joe Carlson. His spirit draws Cleopatra so powerfully to him,
Brave Spirits’ bold, ambitious, brilliant Henri IV continues its exploration of gender with Part II. Shakespeare often sadly limited the roles that women can play, both in their interactions with men and with each other. Brave Spirits asks, why can’t a woman be a Chief Justice or a drunken sot, a warrior or a tailor? Where Shakespeare occasionally explores ways for women to be women, Brave Spirits explores ways for women to be people,
Brave Spirits Theatre are brave spirits indeed. Henri IV is a vast, sprawling, powerful epic of a play. It ranges from intimate love scenes to political intrigue, battles of swords to battles of wits, comedy and tragedy and honor and cowardice. It takes an ambitious theater troupe to portray 67 characters with a dozen actors, and set a variety of different acting challenges. Brave Spirits has both ambition and the skill to achieve it.