BWW Review: ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM - A Thrilling Mystery
ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM directed by Kevin Gates and currently playing City Theatre is a fascinating piece of historical drama. First published in 1592, the play is not credited to a playwright; speculation has named the author as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd or even the great man himself, William Shakespeare. Literary mystery aside, ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM is interesting in its own right, a fast paced murder plot with multi layered characters make for great entertainment. For lovers of Shakespeare the language and structure of the 400 year old play will sound very familiar. The depth of character, motivations and their relationships strike a kindred chord with Shakespearian drama. The character of Alice (Bridget Farias Gates), Arden's wife, is quite intriguing, most Renaissance literature is notable for the lack of women as major characters, much less the driving force behind the entire story. She is given wonderful, biting dialogue that tells us of her determination to free herself from her husband, at any cost. The script in use for this production is a well blended combination of the text used by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2014 and a version edited by Martin White, author of Renaissance Drama in Action.
The play, based on actual events, begins by introducing us to Arden (J. Kevin Smith) a wealthy man who has just been deeded the property formerly owned by Faversham Abbey. Before the Dissolution of the Monasteries by England's King Henry VIII, the Catholic Church wielded great power and riches, much of this wealth was in the form of real estate. The king often gifted or sold these repossessed parcels of land to favorites or for cold hard cash. When these possessions changed hands often people who were tenants of the church for generations found themselves suddenly dispossessed and left without a means to make a living. Suffice it to say that Arden made many enemies by ignoring previous leases in his greedy land grab. But Arden's biggest enemy is much closer to home, his wife, Alice and her lover Mosbie (Nolan Blair) want to remove the chief impediment to their happiness. Franklin (Laura Ray), a business associate tells Arden that he's being too jealous and to woo his wife back with a little sweet talk before they depart for a month in London. Before he leaves, Alice and Mosbie try to poison his food with a concoction provided by local artist and chemist, Clarke (Levi Gore), who wants to marry Mosbie's sister, Susan (Bailey Parker). Arden is made ill by his poisoned breakfast, but fails to die and departs for his business trip leaving his would-be murderers chagrined. Greene (Victoria Barton Rosenthal) arrives claiming to have been cheated out of her land by Arden, using Greene's anger, Alice and Mosbie pull her into their newest plot to hire hit men to do the dirty deed. Greene heads off to London to find two ruffians that fit the bill, Black Will (Beau Paul) and Shakebag (Nathan Ford) offer their services, for a price. The hapless duo of killers miss their mark on more than one occasion adding some darkly comedic moments to the production. I won't spoil the ending except to say that it's a very Elizabethan conclusion to the play.
Overall the City Theatre production was fascinating and well done. Director Kevin Gates does a fine job with staging and shows a devotion to the material that few can match. His knowledge of Renaissance theatre brings this 400 year old play to us in all it's fascinating glory. As Alice, Bridget Farias Gates is passionate and powerful, bringing the character fully to life. Nolan Blair's Mosbie is absolutely wonderful. He plays the role to perfection with an underlying charisma that is magnetic. As Arden's business associate, Franklin, Laura Ray embodies the only friend of the title character with heartfelt loyalty. Beau Paul and Nathan Ford are delightfully menacing as the hired killers, Black Will and Shakebag. In the small role of Lord Cheney, Robert Stevens is brilliantly commanding and makes the most of his time on stage.
I recommend ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM as a piece of theatre history that should be experienced, aside from the lesson in Elizabethan true-crime drama, it's purely entertaining.
ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM by Anonymous
City Theatre, 3823 Airport Blvd, Austin
April 29 - May 22
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission
TICKETS: $15 - $25 citytheatreaustin.org