The Changeling | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Changeling 

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The Changeling, Greasy Joan & Company, at the Famous Door Theatre. Jacobean tragedy in a sense represents a vulgarization of Elizabethan drama's lofty goals: Thomas Middleton and William Rowley's The Changeling, true to its form, serves up an array of victims and villains who engage in adultery, rape, murder, arson, and suicide without a trace of remorse. Their ruthless intrigues might have provided valuable lessons for contemporary audiences, but nowadays little deliberation is needed to find such actions morally reprehensible.

Director Brad Shelton apparently does not agree, opting to stage this lurid 17th-century soaper in the presentational manner popularized by Peter Brook in the 1960s, with characters in modern dress or clown drag playing isolated scenes on a bare stage. Minimal props and lighting provide locale, focus, and the occasional metaphor--for example, an assassin recoils from his bloody deed in a splash of red-tinted light. This intellectualized approach tends to distance us from the passion-fueled narrative, however, rendering the story unintentionally funny at times and often forcing the actors to play attitude at the expense of text.

But what this production may lose in spontaneity and variety it makes up for in proficiency and polish: the well-trained cast navigate the play's mannered diction and syntax skillfully. Greasy Joan & Company (Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost explains the name) have chosen ambitiously for their Chicago debut, a debut that presages better things.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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