BWW Reviews: THE MAIDS' TRAGEDY Is a Bloody Good Show at Northwest Classical

By: Dec. 08, 2014

Here's the story: Amintor, a handsome young lord, was engaged to marry Aspatia, but the King has decreed that he must marry Evadne instead. Evadne is the sister of Amintor's best friend, Melantius, and when Melantius comes home from the wars and discovers the marriage, he is at first confused, but happy for his buddy nonetheless. However, on their wedding night, Evadne announces that she will not sleep with Amintor. She'll pretend to be a good wife, but she isn't ever going to have sex with him. And by the way, she's not a virgin. Turns out she's the mistress of the King, and when Melantius reluctantly gets Amintor to admit this, all hell breaks loose.

Sound like Shakespeare? Nope. It's The Maids' Tragedy by Beaumont and Fletcher. It dates from the end of the Shakespearean era, and has the same kind of language, but by all accounts it's an original story. (Shakespeare, for all his gifts, tended to use existing tales.) It's a hot-blooded, passionate account, with sex, partying, and lots of blood, and it takes a strong company to pull it off. Luckily, Northwest Classical is up to the challenge.

NWCTC works in the aptly named Shoebox Theatre, with only 38 seats, and for this show the seats are arranged in a narrow line against opposite walls, while the action takes place in the middle, on a cream-colored carpet with a handful of patio chairs the only decoration. The production is in modern dress - the costumes, by Casey Ballard, are just about perfect - and the acting is intense and passionate throughout. Gradually the ears adjust to the arcane language, the relationships become clear, and the intensity takes over. Even in this small space, director/designer Barry Kyle has used every inch wisely, and has blocked the action so it fills the space. (If you go, sit in the middle of the row if possible, or you may miss out on some of the play.) Every actor is well cast, and the emotions are clear and believable throughout.

Tom Walton's Melantius begins as a calm, reasonable man, happy and well-liked, rejoicing with his pal, but once he learns of the treachery afoot, he descends into hatred, and he grows more and more passionate. He and Steve Vanderzee, as Amintor, create a beautifully believable close friendship, and Vanderzee brings yearning and pain into his characterization. They're both matched by Brenan Dwyer as Evadne, who starts out as a cold-hearted, hateful woman, but is forced to face the error of her ways, and eventually tries to right her wrongs; it's an incredible character arc, but Dwyer never misses a chance to delve into the character's feelings, and by the end of the play you're impressed by how far both Evadne and the actress playing her are willing to go.

The others are equally impressive, particularly Melissa Whitney as the wronged Aspatia and Grant Turner as the selfish but oddly likable King. The cast of twelve work together beautifully throughout the play, never letting a moment go by without keeping the story moving and the characters involved in what's happening.

There are some odd touches. The play seems to take place at Christmastime; a tree appears, a Santa hat lands on someone's head, and a carol is sung offstage, yet the text never refers to the holiday. Modern music is used, which makes sense and even adds to a few light moments; the Pharrell Williams hit "Happy" makes a bizarre appearance at the start of Act Two. But Aspatia wears headphones and carries an iPod throughout for reasons that I never grasped. And many of the men wear pale white makeup and bright red lipstick, another touch that didn't make any sense. Perhaps these are references to things in the play that I am ignorant of, but you shouldn't have to know the script going in to understand what's happening on stage.

These are minor quibbles. Northwest Classical has unearthed a play that I had never heard of, given it a lively, intense, fascinating production, and shown us a great example of true ensemble acting. Yes, it's a tragedy, and there will be blood spilled before the end, but the production isn't depressing at all. Great theatre, be it comedy or tragedy, is always exhilarating. The Maids' Tragedy is exactly that.