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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: February ::
Rape of Lucrece': The Play
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0152  Saturday, 17 February 2007

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
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Date: 		Saturday, February 17, 2007
Subject: 	'Rape of Lucrece': The Play

From: The Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/14/AR2007021401838.html

A Verse Epic, Uneven Yet Unnerving
'Rape of Lucrece' Receives a Thought-Provoking Rewrite
By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 15, 2007; C08

The Shakespearean standards are for wimps. "Romeo and Juliet"? "Hamlet"? 
"A Midsummer Night's Dream"? Tedious old chestnuts. They've been thrust 
upon the public so often, there can be less glory in staging them these 
days.

Mounting one of Shakespeare's narrative poems-now that takes a bit of 
nerve.  You can only admire the Washington Shakespeare Company for 
presenting "Shakespeare's 'Rape of Lucrece,' " local playwright Callie 
Kimball's adaptation of the Bard's verse epic. Not only is "Rape of 
Lucrece" one of Shakespeare's lesser-read texts, but it deals with a 
subject that makes your typical audience member extremely uncomfortable.

Kimball and director Sarah Denhardt cannily exploit the discomfort 
factor in this ambitious and thought-provoking, if not wholly 
successful, production, which unfurls on an unnervingly intimate scale 
on an arena-style stage.  As the toga-draped action courses 
remorselessly toward the central act of violence-culminating in a 
wrenching scene of darkness, torn by screams-it raises feminist 
arguments about the exploitation of women by men. Such somber themes 
mesh easily with Kimball's stately, poetic and occasionally slightly 
fustian dialogue, which weaves in and out of passages borrowed from 
Shakespeare's poem.

There's also a broader political point that emanates from the story's 
historical context. "Rape of Lucrece" recounts how, in ancient Rome, an 
arrogant prince named Tarquin (the Tarquin whose "ravishing strides" are 
invoked in a famous speech of Macbeth's, incidentally) violated Lucrece, 
the virtuous wife of his fellow soldier Collatinus. Convinced that she 
was irrevocably tainted, Lucrece committed suicide, prompting one of 
Collatinus's relatives to lead a rebellion against Tarquin's tyrannical 
father-an act that eventually led to the founding of the Roman Republic.

Lucrece's suffering, in other words, paved the way for political 
change-a tale disturbing and resonant in our modern world.  Mining this 
conceptual lode, Kimball sets her first and last scenes in the years of 
the Roman Republic, during a public commemoration of Lucrece's life. The 
production's seven performers, standing on set designer Lea Umberger's 
elegant flagstone flooring, launch into an auditory mosaic of 
Shakespearean and Kimballian lines evoking Tarquin's crime. And then, 
suddenly, we're watching the story replay.

It's melodramatic stuff, and Denhardt deserves credit for maintaining a 
tone that's dignified but, where needed, emotionally intense. The moment 
in which the fluttering white drapes of Lucrece's bed fall, one by one, 
leaving her vulnerable to Tarquin's advances, is particularly harrowing. 
Denhardt gets an invaluable assist from composer/sound designer Aaron M. 
Forbes, whose eerily shivering minimalist music lends an atmosphere of 
foreboding to the scenes it underscores.

[ . . . ]

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