Cain | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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Cain, TinFish Theatre. The English Romantics' contribution to dramatic verse is notably meager, though several wrote "closet dramas" never intended for full performance. Modern theorists make a good case that these were uniquely suited to transgressive discourse, and the shoe undeniably fits a certain clubfoot.

Byron wrote two such plays. Manfred (1816) is the superior, an elegant punk masterpiece that transparently casts its author as a proud Faust, unrepentant to the end. Cain (1821) is clunkier but fascinating (and funny) nonetheless. Seldom has the link between Miltonian and Byronic antiheroes been so black-and-white: this is Byron doing Milton. Here again the poet stars, this time playing Cain--hilariously convenient given the sister-wife model of a literal reading of Genesis, to which the writer was, well, sympathetic.

Though the play is longish and dry, its protean swirl of apocryphal history, occult intimation, and fledgling science keeps things interesting. And Byron's representation of the plot's single event as not just the beginning of murder but of the reality of death is a mighty conceit. Director Charley Sherman delivers a smolderingly sensual staging, heavy with light, shadow, and sound thanks to marvelous work by Daniel May (lights) and Steve Ommerle (set design). It's a worthy production of a problematic piece, aided particularly by a hyperarticulate cast equally comfortable with stylized silence and lofty oration. Bradley C. Woodard is especially good as Cain, and Tiffany Scott as his wife is even better.

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