When the main character of a play is named Vindice — Italian for "avenger" — and other characters' names indicate they are ambitious, lurid, empty, phony and sordid, it's pretty safe to say you're not going to see a tender little tale about fairies and buttercups.

With "The Revenger's Tragedy," which is now onstage at the Blackfriars Playhouse, you won't.

Despite the title, this brooding and yet surprisingly funny work by Thomas Middleton doesn't meet the classic definition of a tragedy — that is, a play in which a flawed but likable protagonist is understood and sympathized with by the audience. Rather, "The Revenger's Tragedy" — which is not unlike "Hamlet" — is more of a straightforward saga of retribution.

Its main character exacts his due without engendering much compassion from the audience — and does so in some grim, graphic and occasionally disturbing ways.

Benjamin Curns gives a fierce, darkly humorous portrayal of Vindice, a man who sets out to avenge the murder of his beloved at the hands of a rebuffed Venetian duke. His Vendice is passionate, intelligent, tormented and, when the chips are down, gleefully sadistic. He commands our attention every second he is on stage, even when the payoff is horrific.

The audience, for example, can't help but glue its eyes to Curns as he tricks the Duke (deliciously played by Christopher Seiler) into thinking he is going to ravage a young virgin when, in fact, he is about to kiss the poison-laced skull of the woman he murdered nine years earlier. Curns' Vindice blindfolds the Duke and tells him that country girls are a little bashful at first, but that after the first kiss, the worst is past.

And then, as the Duke is about to kiss the skull, Vendice fires out the pun, "She has a somewhat grave look with her."

Curns is masterful at balancing his character's intensity, audacity and morbid sense of humor.

But this is a play that teems with strong performances.

Alyssa Wilmoth is impressive as Vendice's brother and co-conspirator, Hippolito; Sarah Fallon mesmerizes as the Duchess; Allison Glenzer and Miriam Donald play Vendice's debauched mother and sister to the hilt; John Harrell (Lussurioso), Gregory Jon Phelps (Spurio), Thomas Keegan (Ambitioso) and Chris Johnston (Supervacuo) vividly portray the characters whose names always keep you aware of their innermost motivations; and Nolan Carey, Sarah Lewis Klingbeil and Victoria Reinsel round out this dynamic cast to make "The Revenger's Tragedy" an uncommonly rewarding theatrical experience.

This is, of course, part of the American Shakespeare Center's fifth annual Actors' Renaissance Season, in which the plays are produced — without directors — by the actors and staged in a matter of days. "The Revenger's Tragedy," like the other plays offered this season, is a moving, breathing monument to the power of creativity and is well worth any extra bucks you can drop into the hat.

Full Article: http://www.newsleader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/200902260445/ENTERTAINMENT03/902260307

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