‘Tragislasher’ Season In NYC is a Must See
“Tragislasher,” is the name of the new repertory season from Spicy Witch Productions, a feminist collective which specializes in pairing classical and contemporary plays. Thomas Middleton‘s The Revenger’s Tragedy, a Jacobean revenge drama with elements of subversive social and political commentary, alternates with Bonesetter: A Tragislasher, an adaptation of Middleton’s text which plays it as, according to the company, “an homage to the 1980s-style slasher flick.”
The plays are performed at the Flamboyan Theater at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center on the Lower East side. The wide, dark, theater, with a playing area set in its center, a ways away from the castle-like stone walls, is an appropriately creepy spot for The Revenger’s Tragedy, a play which includes a beheading, multiple murders, and someone making out with a skull. When you enter the theater you immediately see a skull, wrapped in a veil or scarf, with two ornate chairs on a raised stage behind it, all against a curtain of decorated fabric (behind which, we later see, is a large bed).
It’s a striking image which sums up the elements that make the play exciting; power, sex, and death. The Revenger’s Tragedy was written during a time when England’s populace was disillusioned with the ruling class and therefore took depravity and corruption in the royal court as a given. The plays from that era are bloody and immediate, less about character or motivation than about watching bad people do worse things and be punished for it.
Drawing the parallels between Jacobean Drama and slasher flicks is a great idea. They share explicitness as well as an off-balance relationship to their own moralizing; both allow the audience to revel in the depravity of the characters and still feel superior because harsh punishment is doled out in the end. This production works best when the action and the aesthetic are closest to what the genres share.
But The Revenger’s Tragedy isn’t a slasher flick. It’s a play and so it has its own way of telling a story. Particularly, it relies more heavily on language than a film – slasher or otherwise – would. And this play (in particular) has a heightened vocabulary. While the ensemble is uniformly game, a few members have real problems with the language, playing their speeches in broad strokes, without seeming to understand everything they’re saying which, in turn, makes the story difficult to follow. Brandon O’Sullivan, Kimberlee Walker, and Madison Welterlen, however, are stand-outs. They give excellent performances, creating characters that feel truthful and specific by conveying to the audience every twist and turn in their character’s thoughts, feelings, and tactics. And though the artistic director’s note and company’s website put forward an interpretation of the play which emphasizes the fetishization of violence and the overlap between its sexual politics and those of slasher films, very little is done in the direction to emphasize those themes.
The idea of the “Tragislasher” repertory season is an excellent one. While I don’t think the production of The Revenger’s Tragedy worked as a whole, it has some great elements. And I think those elements will be more fully on display in Bonesetter: A Tragislasher, which I very much look forward to seeing.
“Tragislasher:” The Revenger’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton & Bonesetter: A Tragislasher by Annette Storckman
Running in repertory through May 22
107 Suffolk Street, New York, NY 10002
Tickets available online.