BWW Review: THE LIBERTINE Links Bridge Rep with Playhouse Creatures of NYC
Stephen Jeffreys, Playwright; Eric Tucker, Director & Scenic Design; Les Dickert, Lighting Design; Angela Huff, Costume Design; Michael Wartofsky, Music Composition; Bevin Kelley, Sound Design & Technician; Thom Jones, Dialect Coach; Aubrey Snowden, Assistant Director & Choreographer; L. Arkansas Light, Production Stage Manager
CAST (in alphabetical order): Troy Barboza, Olivia D'Ambrosio, D'Arcy Dersham, Eric Doss, Daniel Duque-Estrada, Lauren Eicher, Sarah Koestner, MargaRita Martinez, Megan O'Leary, Brooks Reeves, Joseph W. Rodriguez, Richard Wayne, Aubin Wise
Performances through September 22 at Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com; A co-production by Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston with Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company/NYC.
Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston opens its first full season, collaborating with Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company of New York City to present the Boston premiere of Stephen Jeffreys' The Libertine at the Boston Center for the Arts. Portraying the life of 17th century poet John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, The Libertine is an ambitious undertaking with a complex story, a cast of thirteen actors, detailed period costumes, and original music. The Producing Artistic Directors of the two companies, Playhouse Creatures' Joseph W. Rodriguez and Bridge Rep's Olivia D'Ambrosio, play opposite each other as Wilmot and his mistress, the actress Elizabeth Barry.
Director Eric Tucker wears two hats, also responsible for scenic design, and his staging is inventive with his use of about a dozen door-shaped panels which are moved and reconfigured by the ensemble. A handful of pieces of furniture and props merely suggest locations such as a pub, a theatre, a whorehouse, and the court of King Charles II, but nothing was spared in creating Angela Huff's costumes, from the decorative wigs down to the stylish shoes. Lighting Designer Les Dickert assures that every detail of the finery can be noticed, and distinguishes the locations with a variety of lighting techniques. Michael Wartofsky's original music compositions are well-served by the voices of the cast, as well as the sound design by Bevin Kelley.
Prior to seeing The Libertine, I was unfamiliar with the character of Wilmot and his cronies, so it took some time for me to get into the rhythm of the play and the British accents (kudos to Dialect Coach Thom Jones). In order to chronicle the protagonist's life and exploits, Jeffreys must pack plenty into two and half hours, even though Wilmot only lived to the age of thirty-three. He was a poet and member of the King's court, but perhaps better known for his debauched lifestyle as a womanizer, serious drinker, and rebel. Barry was only one of the countless women in his life, and in addition to her, Jeffreys chooses to feature Wilmot's wife Lady Malet (Sarah Koestner) and his whore Jane (Megan O'Leary) most prominently. His round table, if you will, consists of playwright Sir George Etherege (Brooks Reeves), fellow court poet Charles Sackville (Daniel Duque-Estrada), and young Billy Downs (Troy Barboza). The three men are lesser stars in Rochester's constellation, but the actors shine as brightly in their performances. Eric Doss as the manservant Alcock gives him heart and integrity. Richard Wayne exemplifies Charles II's height and is the only force capable of giving Wilmot his comeuppance.
The portrayals of the women have an underlying edge as they must struggle to gain footing in this man's world. Actually, it is more like a frat boy's world where the bored, entitled members of court seek out amusement and live in a no holds barrEd Manner. Koestner, who also plays a lowbrow innkeeper, digs deep to find the dignity and strength in highbrow Lady Malet as she refuses to suffer in silence for the man she loves. O'Leary's Jane is not the prostitute with a heart of gold, but she manages to show caring and concern for Wilmot even as she seeks a better feather bed for herself with the King. D'Arcy Dersham (Luscombe) is the take charge woman who runs the Dorset Gardens Theatre where Barry works.
D'Ambrosio has her work cut out for her. Barry's story arc requires her to transform from a young, timid neophyte who is attacked by her audiences and in awe of Wilmot, to his protégé, to her own person. Rodriguez's performance is larger than life and consumes much of the air in the room, resulting in D'Ambrosio being minimized in some scenes. However, like her character, she persists and is able to hold her head high in the end. Lauren Eicher, MargaRita Martinez, and Aubin Wise complete the ensemble, impressing with their vocal trio at the top of the second act.
My review has focused primarily on the actors because of the richness of their performances and the ability they have to keep this vehicle moving. Judging The Libertine on its own merit, there are too many moments when it feels like it is about to come to a grinding halt, only to be jump-started by the sheer will of one or other of the actors, or by some clever piece of staging. Full disclosure: historical/period plays are not my cup of tea, but, having been totally enamored by Bridge Rep's inaugural production The Lover, I was drawn by the opportunity to see their next endeavor. I applaud the ambition, the creativity, and the ardor they show, as well as the seamless collaboration with their colleagues from Playhouse Creatures. Despite my misgivings on this one, Bridge Rep continues to be a theater company to watch.
Photo credit: Joseph W. Rodriguez, Olivia D'Ambrosio