BWW Review: THE CHANGELING at the Stratford Festival is Disturbing and Exhilarating
This season at the Stratford Festival has proven to be a stellar one, and Jackie Maxwell's production of Thomas Middleton and William Rowley's THE CHANGELING on the Tom Patterson Theatre stage is no exception. The questionable morals and values of the characters, and the intense relationships between certain characters leave the audience feeling uncomfortable (as was likely intended by the playwrights) but the performances by the members of the company and the overall impact of the production itself, leaves the audience feeling exhilarated.
THE CHANGELING is a complex tragedy with disturbing intersecting plotlines. At the centre, is Beatrice-Joanna, played by Mikaela Davies. Beatrice-Joanna is the daughter of a Vermandero (David Collins), the Governor of Alicante. Almost immediately, we see her take an interest in Alsemero (Cyrus Lane), a nobleman from Valencia, despite the fact that her father has already promised her to Alonzo de Piracquo (Qasim Khan). Beatrice-Joanna becomes so infatuated and obsessed with Alsemero, that she concludes that the only answer to her problem is to have her other suitor killed. To do this, she recruits her father's servant, De Flores (played by the always brilliant Ben Carlson). For an unexplained reason, Beatrice-Joanna despises De Flores, meanwhile, he secretly is as infatuated with her as she is with Alsemero. Her decision to have him murder Alonza, leads to many unexpected consequences, and to say that she gets more than she bargained for, is an understatement.
To complicate things further, Alsemero, completely unaware of the lengths Beatrice-Joanna has gone for him, has his own plot to make sure she is worthy (based on his questionable standards) of him. Specifically, he has a potion that can detect whether or not a woman is still a virgin. Beatrice-Joanna finds out about this plan, and devises her own in order to deceive him.
As the consequences of Beatrice-Joanna's decisions continue to play out, we are also introduced to Antonio (Gareth Potter), who has disguised himself as a fool so as to be admitted to a lunatic asylum in hopes of winning the heart of Isabella (Jessica B. Hill), the young wife of Alibius (Michael Spencer-Davis) who runs the asylum. He is eventually found out by Lollio (Tim Campbell) and by Isabella herself. Isabella wants to explore whether Antonio's feelings for her are genuine, and disguises herself in order to find out.
At the climax of the play, all stories intersect with some devastating results. There is no clear moral message to this play, and I do not think there is meant to be. Where it shines, is in the performances by actors who get to sink their teeth into some incredibly complex characters who find themselves in very absurd and challenging situations. Davies is captivating as Beatrice-Joanna, and Carlson is scary as De Flores, a character who turns out to be as ugly on the inside as he fears people believe he is on the outside. The psychology that drives these characters is very much apparent for the audience, as we get a glimpse into some dark, disturbed minds. It is not uncommon for a lead character to experience a fall from grace at some point in a play, but most of these characters never really demonstrated any grace or honour to begin with. These morally ambiguous characters, combined with a juicy plot, allow for a night at the theatre that will not be forgotten!
THE CHANGELING continues in repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until September 23.
Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann