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THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY
A new version by JESSE BERGER
Freely adapted from the original text by Thomas Middleton, Cyril Tourneur, or Anonymous
LIVESTREAM RECORDING expired
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BULL SESSION | THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY
An interactive discussion with scholar Tanya Pollard, director Jesse Berger, Paul Niebanck, Petronia Paley, Naomi Peters, Matthew Rauch and other members of the company. Read Pollard's program note.
ABOUT THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY
Corrupt government, hypocrisy, abuse of power, adultery, murder, the death penalty, acts of vengeance, violence and vigilantism–Jacobean tragedy, or the headlines of The New York Times? This mesmerizing thriller, written a few years after Hamlet, is a searing examination of humankind’s social need for justice and our animal desire for vengeance. Vindice, the "Revenger," sets off a chain reaction of havoc in a corrupt and decadent Venice that exposes outrageous indulgences and government hypocrisy, and ends in a massacre of epic proportions. Part black comedy, part social satire, the play is a gleefully macabre plot-twisting blender full of Shakespeare's greatest hits.
We want to engage you and our entire community with something stimulating and of genuine value–a rather unique way to experience THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY. We’re thrilled to reunite some of the company of artists that brought this play to life with our 2005 Off-Broadway production for this livestream benefit occasion.
This benefit reading features Cecil Baldwin | Jason C. Brown | Denis Butkus | Geraint Wyn Davies | Saudia Davis | Ryan Farley | Ryan Garbayo | Claire Lautier | Anthony Michael Martinez | Paul Niebanck | Howard Overshown | Petronia Paley | Naomi Peters | Matthew Rauch | Russell Salmon | Derek Smith | Chauncy Thomas | Yaegel Welch. Each zoomed in from wherever they are practicing social distancing. Directed by Jesse Berger, the event includes original music composed by Daniel Levy, visual and costume design by Tony Award winner Clint Ramos & Rodrigo Muñoz, fight direction by J. David Brimmer, and choreography by Tracy Bersley.
For information about our 2005 Off-Broadway production, VISIT HERE.
This event premiered LIVE on Monday, September 14. The recording of the livestream was available until 7:00 PM EDT on Friday, September 18 – then it disappeared.
Vindice, a revenger, called Piato in disguise | Matthew Rauch
Hippolito, his brother, in Lussurioso’s service | Howard Overshown
Castiza, their sister | Naomi Peters
Gratiana, their mother, a dress-maker | Petronia Paley
Duke of Venice | Geraint Wyn Davies
Duchess of Venice | Claire Lautier
Lussurioso, The Duke’s son and heir | Derek Smith
Spurio, a bastard of the Duke’s | Jason C. Brown
Ambitioso, eldest son to the Duchess | Ryan Garbayo
Supervacuo, middle son to the Duchess | Ryan Farley
Flaminio, youngest son to the Duchess | Russell Salmon
Antonio, a powerful lord of law | Paul Niebanck
Lucretia, his wife | Saudia Davis
Pietro, a Lord and friend to Antonio | Yaegel Welch
Antonio’s Lord | Cecil Baldwin
Nencio, a Lord and favorite to Lussurioso | Chauncy Thomas
Sordido, a Lord and favorite to Lussurioso | Anthony Michael Martinez
First Officer | Denis Butkus
Narrator Cecil | Baldwin
Director | Jesse Berger
Set and Costume Designer | Clint Ramos & Rodrigo Muñoz
Sound Designer and Original Music | Daniel Levy
Choreographer | Tracy Bersley
Fight Director | J. David Brimmer
Producing Director | Nathan Winkelstein
General Manager | Sherri Kotimsky
Zoom Coordinator | Betsy Ayer
Associate Zoom Coordinator | Jessica Fornear
OBS Coordinator | Jenna Worden
Asset Producer | Jim Bredeson
Assistant Director | Emma Rosa Went
Red Bull Theater wishes to express its gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION, AMERICAN GUILD OF MUSICAL ARTISTS, AMERICAN GUILD OF VARIETY ARTISTS, and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear in this program.
ABOUT THE PLAY
Playing with the dead in The Revenger’s Tragedy
The Revenger’s Tragedy (1606) opens with a man talking to a skull. Like Hamlet, he is grieving, angry, and seeking revenge for a fatal poisoning at court, but the skull takes on a new and expanded role. As Vindice reflects on his lost love Gloriana, killed by the lustful Duke, he becomes a kind of necromancer, conjuring back a ghostly presence who will pursue revenge from beyond the grave. Gloriana is not the only dead woman whose remains haunt the play. While Vindice plots against the Duke, the court is thrown into upheaval by the death of Lord Antonio’s wife, who kills herself after being raped by the Duchess’s youngest son. The subsequent arrest, imprisonment, revenge, and infighting derail the court’s chain of succession, and set the stage for a complete overhaul of power. Although Gloriana only appears as a skull, and Antonio’s unnamed wife doesn’t appear onstage at all, these women spur the play’s action. As Vindice plots his revenge, he finds himself working collaboratively with the dead as well as the living.
Working with ghosts is the essence of revenge tragedy. Hamlet takes his mandate from his murdered father, and Thomas Kyd’s popular Spanish Tragedy (1587) opens with a ghost petitioning for vengeance. Like other early modern plays, they responded to recently unearthed texts by Seneca and Euripides, whose influential tragedies similarly showcased the demands of the dead. Middleton, a promiscuous collaborator who wrote with many playwrights and playing companies, reveled in both reviving and parodying the genre, which had already aged into cliché. Like Vindice, he takes to his project with glee, verve, and wit. Also like Vindice, he’s smitten with his ghosts, even while adopting a cynical, jaundiced stance towards them.
The play borrows freely from its contemporaries as well as its predecessors. Along with a lecherous Duke, resentful Duchess, and abused women, it features a corrupt court teeming with power-play between ambitious siblings, and a poor but honest family trying to resist the moral decay around them. Vindice himself draws on two of the period’s popular stage types, the melancholy malcontent and the city comedy wit. These figures typically specialize in plotting elaborate scenarios, and Vindice is acutely theatrical: he wears costumes, prepares props, stages a rendezvous for the Duke, and dances in a court masque. But as with all live theater, his performances depend on other players. As his casting extends beyond Gloriana and his brother Hippolito to include unwitting members of the court, his schemes take some unpredictable turns.
Jesse Berger’s adaptation builds on the play’s strategy of collaborating with both the dead and the living. The script incorporates resonant lines from other early modern writers, and the performance is similarly haunted with echoes. The play’s original production, by the King’s Men, would have evoked memories of the same company’s previous plays such as Hamlet, in which the same actor would have addressed the same skull. Similarly, the Red Bull’s production recalls its own past by bringing back actors familiar from the company’s other shows, including their 2005 staging of this play. As we watch remotely from our separate spaces, their performances will conjure the memories of live productions in full playhouses, where we hope we’ll all meet again in person soon.
Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
FROM THE DIRECTOR
"So far as revenge is concerned, our society, like that of Jacobean London, is two-faced; while the individual urge to retaliate is natural, our social concern is to keep this instinct In check.
- R A Foakes"
Written during a time of political and social upheaval, The Revenger's Tragedy holds a striking mirror to its times as well as our own. This Jacobean firebrand of a play borrows liberally from the Revenge Tragedies that preceded it (chiefly Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, and Shakespeare's Hamlet), baldly using plot devices and characters from other plays, riffing on them, and spinning them together into its own stew of mayhem. The play also steals the old style of medieval morality plays and tosses it into the mix: as in Everyman, the characters are named for their chief characteristic, but where in Everyman the names are starkly moral ("Good Deeds") in Revenger's they embody the behavior of this depraved Italian court of Venice ("Lust"). The play spins these two old forms together into a new kind of tragedy written in a comic rhythm. The scholar RA Foakes called it a "tragic burlesque," and the play does seem to be roasting the art of tragic writing for the theater even as it goes about being its own super-ultra Revenge Tragedy.
Vindice, the "revenger" of the play, is an anti-Hamlet. Where Hamlet deliberates, Vindice acts, often role-playing like mad to achieve his ends. All the characters in The Revenger's Tragedy are hyper-aware -- they know they are in a play, they know the role they play, and they play it with abandonment until they meet their predetermined ends in the requisite blood-bathing finale.
"Every passion, in excess thereof, is like a short madness, and if it continue vehement and obstinate, commonly ends in Insanity."
- Francis Bacon
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
The Revenger's Tragedy was first published around 1607, just a few years after Hamlet. Although the notion of authorship was not nearly so precious to the playwrights of the Jacobean era as it is to us today, whoever wrote this play may have had some special reason to remain anonymous, perhaps because the play contains such a gleeful advocacy of government overthrow. In 1656, Edward Archer ascribed the play to Cyril Tourneur upon the evidence of the initials "C.T." inscribed upon an original text, and the similarity of the title to a play known to be by Tourneur, The Atheist's Tragedy. As The Revenger's Tragedy began to be performed again in the twentieth century, scholars put forth a convincing argument based on internal linguistic evidence that Thomas Middleton was the author. Middleton wrote over thirty plays and masques, many of them for the Boys of St Paul's as well as the indoor Blackfriars theater. He wrote Women Beware Women, The Changeling in collaboration with William Rowley, and he is thought to have contributed scenes to Shakespeare's Timon of Athens and Macbeth. While it is certainly possible that Middleton wrote the play, one should not be so quick to rule out Tourneur, whose play The Atheist's Tragedy has much in common with its titular cousin. Indeed, one could make a case that almost any of the leading Jacobean authors had a hand in The Revenger's Tragedy. It is also possible that the play is the result of two or more writers working together, a common practice of the time.
In that Jacobean spirit of collaboration, the play you will hear interpolates into the original text writings of Francis Bacon, Jesse Berger, John Donne, Thomas Kyd, John Marston, Thomas Middleton, William Shakespeare, Cyril Tourneur, and John Webster.
BULL SESSION SCHOLAR
Tanya Pollard is a professor of English at Brooklyn College and at the CUNY Graduate Center. She researches Shakespeare, theater, and performance. She speaks frequently to public audiences with actors, directors, and playwrights about theater in performance. She serves on the Council of Scholars for Theatre for a New Audience, and has appeared in conversation with Ethan Hawke in PBS’s Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth and Christopher Plummer in Shakespeare Uncovered: King Lear. Her books include Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages (2017); Shakespeare's Theater (2003), and Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England (2005)