- The Changeling
Outside of works by Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The Changelingis one of early modern drama’s most-performed plays; it is also, however, a challenging play to produce, partly because its alternating plots differ widely in tone and can prove difficult to integrate on stage. Brent Griffin of Resurgens Theatre Company, a theater group that specializes in original practices productions of rarely-performed early modern verse dramas, eliminated the struggle entirely by cutting the comic subplot.
The resulting production of The Changelingpaid close attention to both the urgency of the verse and the intensity of the tragic action. Griffin directed his actors with specific line readings that utilized the vigorous verse of The Changeling(references to whose text here will be to the edition in The Collected Works of Thomas Middleton[Oxford: OUP, 2007]). In rehearsals, which I was fortunate to observe, he spoke of the music of the words, asking his actors to make the language “reverberate.” He reminded them that, in the early modern period, theatergoers were called the “audience,” not “spectators,” emphasizing the importance of sound in early modern plays. Adam Braun, the actor playing Alsemero, was precise and antiquated in his speech, pronouncing the “-ion” ending of words like “perfection” and “confirmation” with two syllables instead of one. Alsemero’s good friend Jasperino, played by Art Wallace, used a slightly Caribbean accent, calling to mind both his class distinction from Alsemero and the early modern transatlantic trade, part of the historical context of the play.
The cast of The Changelingtook the stage after only a week-long rehearsal schedule, a practice that approximates some early modern rehearsal strategies. The venue was the Warehouse, a Tallahassee bar and pool hall with a large multi-purpose room in back. This room is easily [End Page 516]transformed into a dance floor, a concert hall or, as for this evening, a theater. The dusty wooden beams, dim wall sconces and clinking of beer glasses provided an especially apt atmosphere for a production that attempted to reproduce, in part, the experience of an indoor Jacobean playhouse. The diffused lighting evoked a candle-lit room in which everything, even the stage, was in constant partial shadow. The set was simple; a thrust stage of black platforms extended the existing stage twelve feet into the audience. A black cloth backdrop created a crossover and screened the off-stage areas. The only set piece on stage was a large box with a door—something like a plain black wardrobe. A cellist, Deanna Remus, sat on one corner of the stage, underscoring specific moments of speech and action with music that switched abruptly from lyrical and romantic to dark and menacing with all the intensity of a silent film score. At its most subtle, this music helped set the mood; however, at times it became intrusive and almost humorous, turning DeFlores’ entrances into those of a villain from a melodrama.
When the actors took the stage, only three or four stage lights illuminated them beyond the room’s ambient light, creating a chiaroscuro effect. Beatrice-Joanna, played by Laura Johnson, was a dark-haired beauty in a crimson gown, full of vim and verve. Her first meeting with Alsemero was all suggestive flirtation and lip-biting hesitation. DeFlores, played by Lanny Thomas, was lusty, funny and forceful, with a head of greasy gray hair and artfully applied pimples and moles to give him the requisite skin condition.
The actors made good use of the space, often descending from stage to audience area to deliver lines or even entire scenes. At one point, De-Flores leered over...