The Actors’ Renaissance Season draws to a close today with the matinee performance of Twelfth Night, which I’ve seen twice and highly recommend.
But last night I saw ASC perform The Roman Actor by Phillip Massinger, a play I had never seen before and knew nothing about. While the plot of the play isn’t terribly complicated, it is filled with important ideas about despotism and power, and also about the roles we play. The despotic emperor takes a wife, never mind that she’s already married–Caesar decrees a divorce and, for good measure, has the husband killed. But she’s a hungry sort, and casts her eye on Paris, a tragedian who would like to remain loyal to Caesar, but is now in an awkward spot. Caesar takes care of that problem, but eventually the people get fed up with his despotism.
The company had very little time to stage this show and only did a few performances of it (last night was the closing), but did an amazing job in any case. As the power-mad Caesar, John Harrell was wonderful, as was Denice Burbach who played Domitia, his wife. She was especially fun when drooling over Gregory Jon Phelps’s Paris, the actor who gets caught in the middle. Phelps was excellent, too, and several of Paris’s speeches carry the weight of this play. (I need to read this play now, to catch the full impact.) Benjamin Curns was terrific as Caesar’s “freeman” Parthenius, who eventually joins the rebellion. The rest of the cast did a fine job, too: Miriam Donald, Allison Glenzer, and Sarah Fallon as women abused by Caesar who are jealous of Domitia; Tyler Moss as Domitia’s husband and later as Stephanos, the servant who joins the rebellion; Rene Thornton, Jr. and Daniel Kennedy as Senators who speak out against Caesar’s tyranny and pay for that with their lives; and Chris Johnston as Aretinus, Caesar’s spy.
I’m sorry to see the Renaissance season end, but I’m looking forward to the shows that the touring company will be presenting at the Blackfriars over the next few months: Romeo and Juliet, All’s Well That Ends Well, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle.