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Larry Litt

The Revenger's Tragedy
By Thomas Middleton, Cyril Tourneur or Anonymous
Freely adapted by Jesse Berger
Produced by Red Bull Theater
At The Culture Project
45 Bleecker St.
Now to Jan. 22nd

Ask a Boy Scout if the family is sacred, he'll say "of course." Then ask a dramatist the same question. He'll say "of course, the family is as sacred as the mysterious forces within all our lusty, vengeful hearts." This is the paradoxical twist of Red Bull's wildly funny, sardonically attractive show, The Revenger's Tragedy.

This play reminds me of the infamous early 20th century cartoon depicting a Thanksgiving Day family dinner in a typical home. The modern family appears seated around the table, a model of Puritanism and strident sobriety. The overly large, over-stuffed turkey is lying on the table surrounded by plates brimming with traditional trimmings. At least a dozen family members anxiously adore the wizened, straight laced grandfather who is sharpening the carving knife, at the ready to begin dissembling the celebratory bird. Then one's eye catches a figure under the table. It's the son-in-law placing a lighted bomb under the table. He has a maniacal lunatic's gleeful grimace covering his face. The caption is "An All American Family celebrates their good fortune."

I think it's the funniest cartoon I've ever seen because it reveals a truth about families one doesn't often see in public. The Revenger's Tragedy displays this same truth. The Red Bull Theater has chosen to present this play in the era of The Family As Political Capital. Just when Hollywood and television can't produce a film without the family reconciled by the cliched climax, Red Bull offers audiences a play with no redeeming family values at all. Personal gratification reigns supreme.

I can particularly recommend this play to divorced men with vengeful desires to return to the scenes of their in-laws home and implement the damage of late night fantasy. It's done for you here on stage, and done very bloody well, in the literal sense.

Matthew Rauch as both Vindice and Piato takes us for a vengeful journey to the house of the extremely horny, raunchy and wicked Duke of Venice (Christopher Oden). Vindice blames his fathers death on the Duke's scornful attitude towards the deceased. In this parody based on Elizabethan morality plays as well as current political moralities, we witness the destruction of both their houses due to the raging lust and revenge innate in these characters. Never has a play been as bloody nor without a character to redeem reason and order.

Even the women of Venice are presented as creatures of desire, both sexual and venal. Reversals abound for the Duchess of Venice played by the vivacious Claire Lautier. She is the authoritarian object of desire by men of lesser stations in her court. Can this situation go unnoticed? Unpunished? Why should it?

Lussurioso (Marc Vietor), the old Duke's son and heir, is a beautifully fickle libertine who desires virgins to satisfy his fantasies of sexual domination. He's nothing compared to his younger brother Flaminio (Russ Salmon) who rapes a judge's wife, Lucretia (Saudia Davis), because his madness goes unchecked. Lusty motivations indeed to get revenge on the road to Hell. Can these aristocratic satyrs get away with this?

Costumes by Clint Ramos add high camp to the sets by Evan O'Brient. Tracy Bersley's choreography is appropriately Renaissance and carnivalesque. Daniel Levy's music and arrangements add the right note of drama to this inspiring madhouse.

Do bring a Boy Scout to this show. It will change his life forever. [Litt]

If you have any comments or want to notify him about performances or shows, you can e-mail Larry Litt at: larrylitt@blameshow.com

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