The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0152 Saturday, 17 February 2007
Date: Saturday, February 17, 2007
Subject: 'Rape of Lucrece': The Play
From: The Washington Post
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
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
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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