Staunton News Leader
January 27, 2011
From the opening scene of "The Malcontent," audiences know they're in for something a bit out of the ordinary.
This seldom-produced, 1604 play begins, not with Act I, but with an Induction that was not entirely composed by playwright John Marston (playwright John Webster contributed). The Induction has no bearing on the story that is about to unfold, but instead gives us a clever discussion among several Globe Theatre actors (including Richard Burbage) about "The Malcontent" and Marston's intentions in writing it.
Sort of a Jacobean version, if you will, of the American Shakespeare Center's Web-based podcasts.
From that point on, "The Malcontent" springs to life as a fascinating blend of revenge play and black comedy. It centers on a banished duke of Genoa who, in disguise, lurks around his former court inciting trouble and wreaking vengeance on those who have usurped him, all the while using their own foibles and character traits to unravel them.
In that regard the play is not unlike Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," although Marston's language has been called pedestrian and lacking the soaring elements that made Shakespeare's words so memorable.
Benjamin Curns, who put a high gloss on the role of a man seeking revenge in 2009's "The Revenger's Tragedy," again dons the mantle of vengeance seeker as Malevole, the disguised and deposed Duke Giovanni Altofronto. Just like Clark Kent with his glasses, Malevole hides his true identity behind a single wardrobe device -- in this case, an undisciplined-looking red wig.
Wig on -- Malevole. Wig off -- instantly recognizable as the deposed duke.
Curns hangs every ounce of dramatic force at his disposal upon the character of Malevole and, as a result, turns in a splendid and engaging performance. His duke is one who unreservedly thirsts to settle a score, but is one we can't help but like as well as root for. This is true because, while Malevole is out for revenge, he is not without humanity, and he finds it within himself to forgive some of the injustices he has suffered. Curns conveys this with consummate skill.
And so "The Malcontent" lacks much of the barbarism of other revenge plays of the period and seems to revolve more around the redemption of character than the gleeful letting of blood.
If I were ever to return to acting (and in the highly unlikely event that I were good enough to be in an ASC production), the one person I would tremble to share the stage with is John Harrell. The man shamelessly steals every scene in which he appears, and even when he's not onstage, audiences keep wondering where he is and when he's going to show up next.
His villainous Mendoza in "The Malcontent" is one of the most entertaining characters to appear on the Blackfriars boards since ... well, since the last play Harrell was in. He's wicked; he's funny; he's wickedly funny. He's unforgettable and easily worth the entire price of admission.
Give me Sarah Fallon any day as a freewheeling sexpot; Tyler Moss as a fool; Miriam Donald and Allison Glenzer as anything they want to be. "The Malcontent" is loaded with talent from start to finish and also comprises these other fine players: Gregory Jon Phelps, Jeremy West, Patrick Midgley, Jeremiah Davis, Chris Johnston, Paul Jannise and Katie Crandol.
All the play's actors, by the way, assumed directing duties in this offering in this year's Actors' Renaissance Season.
For the best seats order The Malcontent tickets now.
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