Review by Britt MacLeod
UBC Theatre Department’s production of The Changeling at the Chan Centre’s Telus Studio Theatre provides an exciting opportunity to witness a seldom-produced piece of Jacobean-era theatre. Written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley in 1622, the play features two separate plot threads which eventually weave together. The main thread follows the romantically-tangled Beatrice-Joanna as she makes some regrettable, brutal choices, and is further entangled by a horrifyingly violent event and its repercussions. MFA Director, Luciana Silvestre Fernandes has crafted a production that is visually stunning and dynamic with its use of the three audience levels for staging, engaging ensemble choreography, and the beautiful set and lighting design by Luis Bellassai and Zach Levis, respectively.
The big payoff of the design elements is in the way they reflect thoughtful directorial choices of thematic continuity. A network of floor-to-ceiling ropes seems to stitch the three levels of audience in with the world of the play, offering a satisfying mirroring of the appearance and the plight of the corseted (and otherwise bound) female protagonist. Charlotte Di Change’s costume design features layer upon layer of sensuous red, highlighting the bloody deeds of the quintessentially Jacobean plot.
Some design choices prove less effective. In a recognizable historical convention of supporting evil with physical variation or ‘deformity’, the character of De Flores is written as being ‘ill-faced’ to match his villainy. Though we come to understand early on (and progressively more so throughout the plot) that he indeed disturbs Beatrice-Joanna greatly, the character is portrayed by the rather handsome (and engaging) Kyle Preston Oliverwhose face is not augmented beyond a few light blotches of red makeup. But rather than offering relief at the sidestepping of the prescribed metaphor, this design choice compounds confusion about the character, because with what could be understood as the impetus of his othering being omitted in this contemporized adaptation, the Disney-villain-like proportions of De Flores become all the more glaring. That being said, the work of Preston Oliver, and of Bonnie Duff is certainly laudable. Duff’s Beatrice-Joanna is marked by impressively complex micro-expressions, courageous attack, and a natural command of the language.
Although not necessarily portraying central characters, Connor Riopel as Alonzo/Madman, Abbey Laine Schwartz as Lollio and Ishan Sandhu as Antonio (or “Tony”) are standouts, each with surges of energy, bags of charm and bold physical choices.
While the subject matter of the play undoubtedly has great potential for meaning in our current times (as might be evinced by numerous recent adaptations around the world), offering an opportunity to reflect on what the director identifies as a depiction of “the reality of trauma,” this production also raises questions for this reviewer about the ways in which theatre-makers facilitate those afflicted with trauma, actors and spectators, alike. A moment of what seemed to me to be unnecessary nudity not only added fuel to this questioning but was dramaturgically disruptive. Additionally, I wondered if the nearly 400-year-old plot, which is fixated on honour and treachery, mightn’t benefit from a more satirical edge in this adaptation. Despite, or maybe because of some of the points problematized here, this production is worth seeing, as it offers a glimpse at a rather obscure play by a couple of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and indeed raises important questions for the modern audience about rape culture and our responses to it, trauma and triggering and how theatre contributes to those conversations.
The Changeling plays nightly at the Telus Studio Theatre in the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts January 16-February 1, 2020 at 7:30 pm. Ticket prices: $24.50 Adults; $16.50 Seniors; $11.50 Students. Post-show Talkback January 22. Box Office: 604.822.2678 or firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ubctheatretickets.com Website: www.theatrefilm.ubc.ca Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/629550977584876/