BWW Review: Director Louisa Proske Infuses John Webster's Blood-Soaked THE WHITE DEVIL With Contemporary Nihilistic Attitude
Perhaps if Jacobean playwright John Webster had access to hard-driving techno music and live-stream video technology, his blood-soaked revenge drama The White Devil might have had a successful 1612 premiere at London's Red Bull Theatre, as performed by the resident company, Queen Anne's Men.
Alas, Webster was convinced that his complex, satirical story, suggested by an infamous murder plot that had occurred in Italy decades earlier, had gone over the heads of the Red Bull regulars and the play was far better welcomed eighteen years later, performed by Queen Henrietta's Men at the Cockpit.
Fortunately, little goes over the heads of regulars attending productions by New York's Red Bull Theater Company, a troupe dedicated to reviving rarely seen gems from the past, particularly focused on the Jacobean era, frequently infusing them with contemporary graces.
In the case of director Louisa Proske's mounting of The White Devil, that's where the techno music and live-stream videos come in. Not to mention a contemporarily-clad cast of eleven strutting across the Lortel flashing plenty of nihilistic attitude.
The crazily intricate plot shifts into motion when the Duke of Brachiano (brooding tough-guy Daniel Oreskes) starts a fling with uninhibited Venetian aristocrat Vittoria (comically alluring Lisa Birnbaum), set up by his secretary and her brother, the social-climbing Flamineo (oily Tommy Schrider).
All that's standing in the way of true love are their respective spouses, but after Isabella (Jenny Bacon) and Camillo (Derek Smith) are met with cruel endings, their well-connected friends and relatives get wind of the situation. This includes Isabella's brother, Duke of Florence Francesco de Medici (T. Ryder Smith) and no less than pope-to-be Cardinal Monticelso (menacing Robert Cuccioli).
The body count mounts and blood capsules are a-plenty as Proske comes up with modern representations of Webster's murder devices, including a poisoned virtual reality mask and a power drill.
The sleek production has much of the company dressed by designer Beth Goldenberg like the denizens you'd find posturing at a downtown gallery opening and set designer Kate Noll knocks out several rows of the Lucille Lortel Theatre to create a thrust stage that provides up-close views of the gory business.
Don't expect a lot of subtlety with this one, or to get emotionally involved in any way, unless acting out on depraved impulses sends you out of the theatre with a warm glow.