John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi is just about as bloody as it gets in the theater (other than full-blown battles). Not only do we get a murder or two along the way, but the stage is littered with bodies by the time Delio delivers the closing monologue. Last night I saw a production of the play at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse, part of the repertory company's five-show "Actors' Renaissance Season" in which directors have been done away with and preparation time kept to a minimum.
The Duchess, played nobly by Vanessa Mandeville Morosco, is at odds with her brothers, The Cardinal, played by Benjamin Curns, and Ferdinand, played by Gregory Jon Phelps. She secretly marries Antonio (René Thornton Jr.) and has three children, believed by the brothers to be bastards. The Cardinal is particularly nasty, but Ferdinand, who is nuts, is the one directly involved in retaining the mercenary Bosola (James Keegan) to get rid of the Duchess, which drives him even more nuts. When Bosola and The Cardinal clash at the end, and Ferdinand shows up waving a sword, you know people are going to die. And they do.
I didn’t feel a lot of energy in the theater last night. It was a relatively small house, being a Thursday, and the bulk of the audience was made up of a class from Mary Baldwin College. Still, theatergoers were appreciative and, considering that the actors had not down this play for almost two weeks, they did a great job.