>ASC: The Blind Beggar of Alexandria

>Wednesday night I saw what is most likely my final performance of the 2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season at the American Shakespeare Center: The Blind Beggar of Alexandria. (The season runs through Sunday, so if there are shows you’ve missed, you still have a chance!)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this season, especially the productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Changeling. But The Blind Beggar of Alexandria is certainly memorable, in part because it is a rarity (this is the first professional production of the play anywhere in 400 years) and in part because of the masterful performance of John Harrell as the Blind Beggar. How does he do it?

Harrell plays Irus, the Blind Beggar, who isn’t blind and who is actually Cleanthes, the exiled Duke and lover of Aegiale, Queen of Egypt. In pursuit of riches and sport, Cleanthes/Irus also takes on the identities of Hermes and Leon, one a Count and one a rich merchant. With the help of his brother, Pego (Christopher Seiler), Cleanthes in his various guises manages to marry and impregnate two young beauties, scam Lord Antistenes out of a small fortune, murder a suitor to the Queen’s daughter (why isn’t clear, although as the Duke he seems to have designs on the girl himself) . . . and so on. It’s a non-stop con, and Harrell is in the middle of it all.

But besides the brilliance of Harrell, the supporting cast here is excellent, as well. I love Allison Glenzer, Alyssa Wilmoth, and Miriam Donald as the three sisters who visit Irus to have their fortunes told and then find themselves married–as Irus predicts–2 to Cleanthes and one to Pego. Gregory Jon Phelps gets to have some fun in this show, too, playing the murdered Doricles as well as the Spaniard Bragadino, bested by the “Duke” for the hand of Elimine. And four company members (Rene Thornton, Jr., Chris Johnston, Benjamin Curns, and Thomas Keegan) appear as four kings angry with King Ptolomy (also played by Curns), in a plot line that seems tacked on to the play, who then get to compete for the attentions of Cleanthes’s “widows.”

The play is wonderfully silly and doesn’t even make much sense, but it’s great entertainment anyway. I’m sorry to see this Actors’ Renaissance Season come to a close, but am already looking forward to the Spring season and the return of the touring company.

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