A TRICK TO CATCH THE OLD ONE
Monday, January 18, 7:30 pm
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Directed by Craig Baldwin
featuring Bill Buell, Grant Chapman, Drew Cortese, David Greenspan, Don Guillory, William Jackson Harper, Daniel K. Isaac, Antoinette LaVecchia, Christina Pumariega, Lee Sellars, James Seol, Mirirai Sithole, David Ryan Smith, Stephen Spinella, Rasha Zamamiri, and more
"Who seem most crafty prove oft times most fools."
How far would you go to get out of debt? This twisted comedy follows the appropriately named Witgood in his uproarious quest to lie, cheat and hustle his way back into the black.
Broke, abandoned by his family, and in debt to his eyeballs, Witgood has nothing to rely on but his wit and his only two allies, a barkeep and a harlot. Thankfully, he has a plan! Middleton's hilarious Jacobean city comedy is a rip-roaringly relevant tale of one scoundrel's personal financial crisis and his one wild chance to get back at his creditors.
The OBIE Award-Winning Revelation Readings series provides a unique opportunity to hear rarely-produced classic plays performed by many of the finest actors in New York.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) was a Londoner, and many of his plays revolve around the city. Along with Ben Jonson and George Chapman, he is the playwright most associated with city comedy, with A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, A Mad World My Masters, and The Roaring Girl all classics of the genre (as is tonight’s play, A Trick to Catch the Old One). But Middleton’s dramatic oeuvre extends beyond this genre--indeed he may lay claim to being the most versatile playwrights of the era, writing tragicomedies, civic pageants, court masques, and perhaps most famously a series of tragedies including Women Beware Women, The Revenger’s Tragedy, and The Changeling. Unlike Samuel Rowley, his collaborator on The Changeling, he does not seem to have been an actor, but he was a frequent play reviser. The surviving texts of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Measure for Measure all have amendments made by Middleton. Middleton was also a satirist: his depictions of London types mock their money-grabbing ways, as is evident in A Trick to Catch the Old One. His notorious A Game at Chess responded to anti-Spanish sentiment in the 1620s, when James I sought to set up a Spanish match for his son, Charles, only to back down due to intense public reaction--which the play both captured and fomented. Middleton’s ability to court outrage here and elsewhere may well have led to the lack of posthumous recognition, altered only recently thanks to Oxford’s major collected edition of his works and to major productions of his work (by, among others, Red Bull Theater).
ABOUT THE PLAY
A Trick to Catch the Old One (c.1605) revolves around Theodorus Witgood, a Leicestershire prodigal who has mortgaged his lands to his uncle Lucre, a greedy London merchant. In revenge, Witgood and his mistress Jane devise a plot whereby she poses as a wealthy widow visiting London. When “Widow Meddler” is pursued by Lucre’s great rival Hoard, Lucre promises to return Witgood his lands so that he can be a suitable match.
First written for Paul’s but also performed at Blackfriar’s, the play is an example of a city comedy and bears a resemblance to other plays of the genre (Middleton redeployed the “fake heiress” plot in A Chaste Maid). Middleton seems particularly interested here in tensions between the city and the country, between land-based economies and the new mercantilism of London. If anything, the play seems to side with the former (old money) over the latter (new money), by showing the lengths to which London merchants will go to acquire land-based wealth. And while prominent quickwits in other city comedies are often city types, Witgood (whose full name means “wit is God’s gift”) is a man from the counties who has to navigate London’s economy to re-acquire his property.
Middleton also satirizes the many levels of London’s credit culture. Witgood’s creditors proffer him more advances when they believe that his fortunes may improve through marriage, only to recall their debts when “the widow” weds Hoard. Hoard in turn believes (or credits) Witgood’s prior claim of betrothal, and then agrees to pay him off if he’ll tear up his pre-contract (as a result of which Witgood is able to pay off his creditors). For Middleton, then, credit here revolves not just around money and debt but belief and gullibility. A Trick to Catch the Old One points to the many ways that London’s credit culture is open to trickery, abuse, and to “good wits.”
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE & LITERATURE
HUNTER COLLEGE, CUNY