THE ATHEIST'S TRAGEDY
Monday, December 7, 7:30 pm
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Directed by Ben Prusiner
Featuring Johnny Lee Davenport, Jacob Fishel, Ryan Garbayo, Philip Goodwin, Miriam A. Hyman, Whit Leyenberger, Kathryn Meisle, Bhavesh Patel, Tom O'Keefe, Raphael Nash Thompson, Alexander Sovronsky, Sam Tsoutsouvas, Alejandra Venancio, Lisa Wolpe
with live music by Alexander Sovronsky
Post-show discussion with Gail Kern Paster, Director Emerita of the Folger Library
"Let all men lose, so I increase my gain;
I have no feeling of another's pain."
Will God punish him? This spine-tingling tale of murder, revenge and deceit by “one of the most shadowy figures of Jacobean drama” follows a ruthless atheist in his uncompromising pursuit of wealth and power.
Lord D'Amville will do anything to provide for his sons - even if it means sending his nephew Charlemont off to war and plotting his own brother's death. With his nephew gone, D'Amville can engineer a marriage between Charlemont's betrothed, the wealthy Castabella, and D'Amville's own son. But even the most intricate schemes may be threatened by forces outside his control...
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
Facts about Cyril Tourneur are few. Like a number of literary lesser lights in early seventeenth-century England, Cyril Tourneur (d. 1626) led a life marked more by diplomatic and military service than literary endeavor. He was associated with the great Elizabethan soldier Sir Francis Vere and with the powerful Cecil family. After Tourneur’s death by fever following the disastrous 1625 expedition to Cadiz, his widow Mary’s petition for a pension was supported by Edward Cecil, the earl of Wimbledon who attested to his good service. Aside from The Atheist’s Tragedy, Tourneur is credited with writing a tragicomedy The Nobleman, which has not survived even though it must have been successful. It was owned by the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, who kept it in their repertoire from 1612 (when it was performed at court) until 1641. Other literary efforts include a prose “Character,” written after the death of Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, and elegies for Vere and the teenage Henry, Prince of Wales whose death in 1612 occasioned a great national outpouring of grief. He was once thought to have written The Revenger’s Tragedy now attributed to Thomas Middleton, even though the cynical spirit of Middleton’s play—with virtuous characters notably absent—has little in common with the stoic affirmation of The Atheist’s Tragedy.
ABOUT THE PLAY
For the Jacobeans, an atheist was a man--like D'Amville in Tourneur's tragedy--who denied the existence of the afterlife and the role of supernatural forces like Fate, destiny, or providence in human affairs. The play is D'Amville's tragedy in two senses. The tragic plot directly results from his intrigues to usurp his brother Montferrers' title and to disinherit the rightful heir Charlemont in favor of his two sons. And, because his intrigues suffer from forces beyond his control, the play is "his" tragedy in depicting his downfall. The subtitle carries its own ironic moralism, the "revenge" of the honest man Charlemont consisting not in bloody deeds but in the stoic virtues of endurance and patience.
D'Amville--whom we could call a sociopath--professes himself indifferent to others: "Let all men lose, / so I increase my gain, / I have no feeling of another man's pain" (Act 1, sc. 1). He acts only to enrich himself and ensure immortality through male heirs. At first he succeeds--arranging the departure of the gullible Charlemont and plotting the murder of his brother. But his sons prove unable or unwilling to provide him heirs, and Charlemont bests the murderer D'Amville sends to assassinate him.
The play's moralism is enlivened in two ways: first, by physical action and spectacular effects--murders and attempted murders, ghostly visitations, funeral processions, madness, spectacular suicide; and second, by a ribald comic subplot centered around the lusty aristocratic lady Levidulcia and D'Amville's libertine son Sebastian. Physical action and innuendo offset the long speeches in which the major characters outline their personal philosophies, and D'Amville's final lines underline the moral message. There is a power above Nature, he acknowledges, "that knew the judgment I deserved, / And gave it."
Tourneur's play, while full of buried Shakespeare allusions in its language, eschews Shakespeare's complexity of characterization and tangle of motives. Instead Tourneur sets the opposition of good and evil main characters within a convoluted plot line to deliver the play's moral message and underscore its philosophical ironies.
- Gail Kern Paster, Director Emerita, Folger Library