LSM-ONLINE-LOGO2JPG.jpg (4855 bytes)


Back Issues
LSM Issues
LSV Issues

Throat Doctor
Concert Reviews
CD Critics
Books Reviews
PDF Files


About LSM
LSM News
Guest Book
Contact Us
Site Search
Web Search

On the Aisle



Webster's White Devil at BAM

By Philip Anson / January 18, 2001
On the Aisle

The White Devil
By John Webster
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Jan. 18, 2001

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) imported the Sydney Theater Company's recent production of John Webster's 1612 grand guignol tragedy The White Devil to thrill and chill the intelligentsia this month. Many criitics found the show sensationalistic and unsophisticated, but the public seemed to like it. Webster's play does not pretend to be anything other than a gory soap opera. Sex and violence was as much a crowd pleaser 400 years ago as it is today.

This production, adapted and directed by Australian Gale Edwards, has been around since 1996 and was restaged for the Sydney Olympics in August 2000. Edwards has garnered mixed reviews in America: poor ones for her 1996 revival of Jesus Christ Superstar and good ones for her modern updating of Schiller's Don Carlos (performed at BAM in May 2000).

The White Devil is not exactly an untouchable classic. It is the renaissance version of a slasher movie, with all the cliches of its genre, including lustful wives, studly nobles, scheming priests, outraged fathers, jealous siblings, slippery servants, and heartless assasins. Ms. Edwards has taken some liberties in order to streamline Webster's convoluted story. It goes like this: Duke Brachiano is in love with Vittoria Corombona, but he is married to Isabella. Vittoria's ambitious brother Flamineo arranges the murder of Isabella and of Vittoria's husband Camillo, to get the rich Brachiano and Vittoria together. Brachiano and Vittoria marry and move to Padua. But the Duke of Florence, Isabella's brother, sets out for revenge.

The White Devil may not be England's profoundest play, but it is full of good, old-fashioned action and primal emotions. Everyone is motivated by simple drives such as lust, greed, ambition, honor, and revenge.The chic costumes reflect a society where sex is power and life is cheap. Hunky Australian actor Marcus Graham swaggered as a hormonal Brachiano clad in an open white blouse and crotchy leather pants. Vittoria showed lots of cleavage -- but also turned out to be a "strong female character." Her proto-feminist self-defense during her trial was a tour de force. Jacqueline McKenzie did her best with the rather drab character of good girl Isabella. She dies from kissing a poisoned portrait of her no-good husband Brachiano.

Jeremy Sims's Flamineo moved like a diabolical Puck, a whirwind of evil scheming so unscrupulous that he even offs his own brother. Anyone that desperate can't be all bad, and by the end of the play, one almost feels sorry for him. Though he is almost always onstage, Sims's energy never flagged. His every move was carefully timed and telling. John Gaden was brilliant as the slimy priest Monticelso who is elected Pope. His "whore" monologue was a real Shapkespearean set piece, brilliantly delivered.

Roger Kirk's leather and silk period costumes were sexy and slick. Brian Thompson's set offered numerous dark doors and corridors for the many rapid entrances and exits. Lighting and stage fog added to the atmosphere of sinister confusion. The plot's violence was (too) emphatically underlined by Max Lambert and Martin Armiger's shrieking, percussive score. By the end of the play, the stage was awash in blood, and the few actors alive pronounce justice triumphant. It may not have been Hamlet, but at least it was fun.

BAM's next theater offerings are British director Peter Brook's controversial new interpretation of Shakespeare's Hamlet (April 24-May 6) and the Royal Dramatic Theater of Sweden's production of Strindberg's Ghost Sonata, directed by Ingmar Bergman (June 20-24).


The White Devil
Adapted and directed by Gale Edwards for The Sydney Theater Company; sets by Brian Thomson; costumes by Roger Kirk; lighting by Trudy Dalgleish; composers, Max Lambert and Martin Armiger; sound by Paul Tilley; voice coach, Victoria Mielewska; fight choreographer, Steve Douglas-Craig; assistant director, Carlton Lamb; stage manager, R. Michael Blanco.

Cast: Marcus Graham (Brachiano), Angie Milliken (Vittoria Corombona), Bruce Spence (Camillo), Jacqueline McKenzie (Isabella), Michael Siberry (Duke of Florence), John Gaden (Monticelso), Jeremy Sims (Flamineo), Matthew Newton (Marcello), Julia Blake (Cornelia), Paula Arundell (Zanche) and William Zappa (Lodovico).

Copyright by Philip Anson


(c) La Scena Musicale 2000