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Larry Litt

"Women Beware Women"

"Women Beware Women"
By Thomas Middleton
Adapted and Directed by Jesse Berger
Theater at St. Clement's
423 West 46th St., NYC
Reviewed Jan 2, 2008 by Larry Litt
Jennifer Ikeda and Geraint Wyn Davies in "Women Beware Women" at the Theater at St. Clement’s. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

I'm not a great fan of romantic comedies. Not only are they unrealistic, but they can ruin any relationship with false expectations of levity and reconciliation. So I love Thomas Middleton's "Women Beware Women" because it's the antithesis of Hollywood's sappy idea of love and marriage going together like a horse and carriage.

Without giving too much away, this production reminds me of "Hamlet" meets "Macbeth" meets the Medici Family Renaissance Singers. Desire and power are the driving forces behind poor little Bianca's machinations of first Leantio, then the Duke of Florence. Jennifer Ikeda's Bianca is beautiful, coy and cunning at once in scenes that reveal political savvy to rival the Clintons. When she reveals her inner strength, we know she'll sacrifice anything to rise in the difficult world of Renaissance Florence.

Jacob Fishel plays Leantio, the unfortunate and unwitting victim of this tragicomedy, with knowing layers of youthful desperation. He seek to hold onto Bianca who is in love with the all powerful Duke. No contest. I did wonder if Leantio and Bianca were divorced before the Duke marries her. Doesn't matter of course. Leantio is powerless by comparison.

For me Kathryn Meisle's Livia is the driving force that makes "Women Beware Women" a powerful morality tale. At 39 years old she is childless, lonely, bitter and very rich. A bad combination at any age, but she still seeks love and beauty. When Leantio enters her eyes bulge and her thighs pulsate. Leantio belief in true love is overcome by the power of magical charms: money and lust. Deadly sins for the unwary.

Since the Duke's court is already a magnet for love illicit affairs, enter Hippolito the beautiful young Isabella's uncle and lover. Through Livia's plotting Hippolito seduces Isabella. What! Incest! Happens in the best of families. Especially when there's an non-protective, anti-mother like Livia at the reins.

Liv Rooth's sparklingly comedic Isabella elevates the show into a professional musical. She shows all the signs of stage transcendence with singing, facial expressions and body language that telegraph more than text. She is a classic comedienne while Ms Meisle is a gorgeous but essentially hard dame.

Red Bull's casting, costume and set bring us authentically into Middleton's comedy. How often I've wished I was there during the Restoration. It was madcap and romantic without a drop of political correctness. We can learn much about commenting on freedom from them.

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