The Villain’s Theatre updates The Changeling to make it about a young woman driven to extreme action because of male power structures.
As a Jacobean tragedy, the play set in a madhouse is full of murky morality, murder, treachery and sexual appetite.
The protagonist Beatrice wants to get rid of her father who stands in the way of her marrying a gentleman she fancies.
To do so she leads on the nasty orderly Deflores who has long lusted after her. As everything unravels, she becomes a victim as much as a villain. When the song Let Me Call You Sweetheart comes on after an unpleasant end to Act I it’s super creepy.
This intense, fast-paced, atmospheric production – at 90 minutes including intermission – compresses the plot. Some details are a bit confusing if you don’t know the early 17th century classic by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.
Director Dorian Lang strongly creates a mood befitting all the references to fools and madmen at Bedlam.
The design of windows and mirrors with Matthew Downey’s spooky, low level lighting is very effective. Characters rush in and out; a mad girl sings presciently. The use of sound is good: dripping water, carnivalesque music for mad dances.
Particularly expressive in the cast are Kayla Gunn as the increasingly desperate, conniving Beatrice and Michael Kamras as Deflores, with scabby makeup on his forehead since it’s clear Deflores is physically repugnant. Kamras creates an unloved monster like a Caliban with a looming sense of violence and all the hopes-dashed misery of the outcast.
Abby Weisbrot as the servant Diana is a natural and makes the scene where Beatrice tests a drug on her to indicate virginity a lively, fun one. Also in the able cast are Dan Bray, Sherwin Buydens, Audrey Eastwood with a lovely singing voice and Colleen MacIsaac.
Also on the creative team are: dramaturge Laura Burke, stage manager Olivia McGinn, original composer Jenny Trites, set designer Patricia Vinluan, costume designer Kelsey Stanger and choreographer Holly Arsenault.
In updating a classic to explore contemporary issues, the Halifax company’s artistic director Dan Brayand and artistic producer Colleen MacIsaac make it clear that Beatrice has no options to exercise her free will and has to navigate – and break – rigid societal structures as she seeks power.
Watching The Changeling: Chimes of Bedlam one thinks of all the male media and entertainment executives demanding sexual favours of young women to advance their careers and of the many rigid patriarchal structures – some crumbling, others still standing – that block women and other oppressed people around the world.
The Changeling: Chimes of Bedlam is at the Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen St., today at 2 p.m. and at the Sawmill Playhouse (formerly the Dartmouth Players’ theatre), 33 Crichton Ave., Darmouth, Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m.matinee Dec. 1 and 2.. Tickets are through villainstheatre.com. Next up for the nine-year-old company is Fox, based on Volpone, in February.