The Maid's Tragedy | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Maid's Tragedy


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THE MAID'S TRAGEDY, European Repertory Company. Honor and duty seem quaint, archaic concepts at the end of the twentieth century, when shirking personal responsibility has become a growth industry. Compare, as did Charles Baxter in his recent article "Dysfunctional Narratives," the words of Robert E. Lee three days into the Battle of Gettysburg--"All this has been my fault"--to the words of President Reagan once the Iran-Contra scandal broke--"Mistakes were made." (By...?) The perversion of male honor gives us drive-by shootings, the Tailhook scandal, and Oliver North.

Three centuries before North wrapped himself in the flag in order to wipe his feet on the Constitution, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher passionately dramatized how headstrong zealotry "bears us headlong into sin" in The Maid's Tragedy, a pot-boiling Jacobean bloodbath if ever there was one. When the king, hoping to conceal his lustful liaisons with the ambitious Evadne, marries her off to nobleman Amintor, everyone is out to defend his or her honor to the death: Amintor, Evadne, her brother Melantius, and even the bumbling blowhard Calianax, father of Amintor's former fiancee, a kind of seventeenth-century Barney Fife. These self-appointed arbiters of justice destroy themselves and their court, just as the tight-knit fabric of Tudor society was unraveling into the individualistic, competitive Stuart world.

Designer Robert Whitaker provides a perfectly decrepit set for the action, draping two sweeping staircases in thickly-painted grey fabric as though the entire court is buried under volcanic ash. But director Charley Sherman, despite his clear, efficient staging, can't seem to keep a fire under his cast, who approach regicide as though it were a traumatic break-up rather than a venal sin. With the exception of Tim Kough as the intractable Melantius, the actors tend to retreat into their twisted passions instead of charging forward in warped fulfillment of duty. The play ends up feeling like a season finale of Dynasty--luridly engrossing for an hour but a bit tedious after three.

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