A biting, aristocratic satire – The Malcontent

Malcontent - Lynn Milgrim and Marisol Ramirez

***

Charting the capricious vagaries of a regional Italian court, circa 1600, and currently being staged by Antaeus Company, is John Marston’s seldom-staged Jacobean tragicomedy, The Malcontent, now at the Deaf West Theatre in NoHo.

Review by Pauline Adamek

This rollicking tale of Royal Italian court intrigue relates the amusing saga of the deposed Duke of Genoa. The dukedom of Altofront (Bo Foxworth) has been usurped by Pietro (Mark Doerr), whose regime is propped up by a marriage-cemented alliance with the superior city of Florence. Rather than disappearing into exile, Altofront has adopted the alter ego of Malevole, a bitter and discontented cynic. He remains in court under this disguise, all the while striving to regain his lost dukedom and be reunited with his steadfast wife Maria (the lovely and aristocratic-looking Ann Noble).

Malevole is a vitriolic satirist-figure who attacks the corruption and decadence of the grasping, sex-obsessed and politically fickle court in which he dwells. Meanwhile, he exploits the shifting nature of fate, such as the capricious favors of the adulterous new duchess, Aurelia (Jules Wilcox), in order to exact psychological vengeance on his supplanter Pietro. Eventually, he joins forces with Pietro against the greater evil embodied in the sly and ambitious Machiavellian schemer, Mendoza (Ramon DeOcampo).

Malcontent - Bo Foxworth - photo by Geoffrey Wade

***

Playing the ‘wise Fool’ character of Altofront/Malevole, Bo Foxworth is excellent, though repellently vicious, muttering insults under his breath. In his motley coat of rags with a matching cap, teamed with a fright wig and glasses, Malevole’s true identity is well obscured and his disguise affords him the liberty to comment “foolishly and carelessly” as well as with biting satire. Technically his is the central character of this amusing comedy of manners mixed with devious murder plots, but it is Ramon DeOcampo as who gives the more flashy, impassioned and alluring performance. Handsome and charming, DeOcampo is greasily suave as well as comical as the conniving ‘Lothario,’ seducing – or attempting to seduce – whomever takes his fancy and blithely arranging the disposal of perceived enemies.

Malcontent - Ramon DeOcampo

***

Driving the various stratagems, the sparkling dialogue consists mostly of jolly witticisms as the courtiers trade clever insults and use language both for sport and as weapons, in order to score points in the hierarchy of the court and curry favor with each other for personal gain. Marston’s high-flown language is rendered more accessible by the excellent direction from Elizabeth Swain who has guided her actors to punctuate certain archaic terms and suggestive allusions with hilarious explicit gestures that fully convey their lewd meaning.

Thanks to an energetic pace and clean and crisp scene transitions, this production of The Malcontent is never slow or dull.

Of note are the lavish and gorgeous costumes realized by designer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, comprised of lush silks, rich velvets and smooth leather, with embroidered pantaloons and pleated neck ruffles. An amusing dance number by choreographer Heather Allyn is well executed, as is the swordplay by fight choreographer Rick Sordolet. Peter Bayne’s sound design, and original music composition, is also noteworthy for its appealing flavor and urgency.

Background:

The Malcontent was first performed in 1603 by the Children of the Chapel, one of the troupes of boy actors active in the era, in the Blackfriars Theatre. It was later taken over by the King’s Men, the adult company for which William Shakespeare worked, and performed at the Globe Theatre.

In fact, director Elizabeth Swain’s staging and Tom Buderwitz’s set design recreates the Blackfriars Theatre, complete with a pew on either side of the stage each seating four lucky audience members. On occasion, those viewers are lightly included in the stage action, much to their delight.

As the production will be staged with two separate casts, the titles ‘Cuckolds’ and ‘Wittols’ are simply a designation for each cast. There is no greater significance than that.

Incidentally, you probably already know that a ‘Cuckold’ is a man whose wife is cheating on him, whereas a ‘Wittol’ is a cuckold who doesn’t mind.

It may have been written over 400 years ago, but this is a marvelous production of a seldom-seen classic work of theatre that despite its complex poetic language feels fresh, contemporary and accessible.

Highly recommended.

***

The Malcontent

Antaeus Company

At Deaf West Theatre

5112 Lankershim Blvd.,

North Hollywood CA 91601

(one block south of Magnolia; free parking available in the uncovered Citibank lot on Lankershim Blvd. south of Otsego St.)

Performances:

 

Runs until Sunday June 19, 2011

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm

Sundays at 2:30 pm

Running time:

Approximately 2 & ½ hours, including a 10-minute intermission

TICKETS:

Thursdays and Fridays: $30.00

Saturdays and Sundays: $34.00

Box Office:

Purchase tickets here or call (818) 506-1983

The Antaeus Company strives to keep classical theater vibrantly alive by presenting professional productions with a top-flight ensemble company of actors. Taking their company name from the Titan who gained strength by touching the Earth, Antaeus members – many of whom are familiar to movie and television audiences – regain creative strength by returning to the wellspring of their craft: live theater performances of great classical plays.

All Antaeus productions are fully double cast, with two equally talented actors sharing every role. This means that audiences never see an understudy and frequently come back to see each show a second time in order to see the same play in the hands of an equally excellent but very different set of actors.

Members of the company and its board span a wide range of age, ethnicity and experience; they have performed on Broadway, at major regional theaters across the country, in film and television, and on local stages, and are the recipients of multiple accolades including Tony, Los Angeles and New York Drama Critics Circle, Ovation, LA Weekly, and Back Stage Garland nominations and awards.

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Comments

  1. ~~~

    Very clear description — not so clear to me in Saturday
    evening’s performance of Act I — I was having difficulty
    sorting out Dukes, and good guys vs bad guys — the
    Mal monologue which explains it, gets so flowery that
    I had to re-read the cheat sheet inserted in the program
    to even get a slight handle the plot.

    I feel totally in sync with your review.

    I was thrilled for Antaeus celebrating their 20th – - I was at their first fundraiser 20 years ago, and have been following them ever since; not to mention that they are one of ‘my’ NoHo Theaters. Their original space was practically
    at our doorstep.

    In addition, costumer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg is a friend of
    ours — and the costumes blew me away (he also made the
    drapes).

    At any rate, glad to see your review this am.

  2. It’s great that a production like this was staged. I’m intrigued and may check it out before it closes. Good work.

  3. ~~~

    This play is a little jewel. The language is the star and you have to give yourself over to it and just go for the ride.

    The costumes are fantastic and I especially liked the way in which the actors would interact with the audience without being intrusive, just inclusive.

    Period productions of this kind are really rare and seeing a show of this quality is a rare opportunity. So glad I went.

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