By John Farrell
There have been changes aplenty at the Long Beach Playhouse recently such as staging musicals there when they haven’t hosted a musical in years; putting on serious plays that might never have been given a chance; collaborating with other theater companies and staging a two-week long festival of new plays.
But the biggest change of all may be seen on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday matinees through September 29. Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The Changeling, a Jacobean tragicomedy directed by Dave Barton that takes the classic drama and expands it to modern dress and modern attitudes. Premiered less than a decade after Shakespeare’s death, the play is violent, desperate, and frankly distasteful. One of its main characters suffers from a horrible skin disease, others are madmen or pretend madmen, and before the night is over, seven are killed.
After the last play upstairs, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, blood and murder are not big things. Indeed The Changeling is less bloody than the Scotch play. Shooting people is inherently less bloody than stabbing and beheading.
In the Jacobean world bloodshed was not a problem. Sex, however prevalent, always occurred off-stage, in every play produced for the past 200 years. But Barton wants to shock us. And there is plenty to shock.
De Flores, the main villain of the piece (Rick Copps, suitably deformed with his skin disease), rapes an acquiescing Beatrice (Terri Mowrey), who demurely removes her underwear before Copps (who drops his pants) bends her over a table.
In the second act her erstwhile husband Alsemero (Conor Turoci) is deceived into having sex with Diaphanta (Jessica Lamprinos) on his wedding night. Both strip naked and get on a table mid-stage where discreetly and barely wrapped in sheets, they simulate sex in a variety of positions while the play goes on around them.
Correction was made to reflect the correct character playing opposite of Conor Turoci’s Alsemero.
None of this is particularly shocking on its own, but the Playhouse audience may not be ready for such a severe break with tradition. The night we saw the play, the audience was full of enthusiasm for the stage antics, though you have to wonder if the play’s story, seriousness and drama were much appreciated.
The inmates of the madhouse screeched when they entered at the play’s beginning, but when in the second act they broke into a singing chorus-line it felt like Barton wanted to make a spectacle, not a serious look at a classic which has been much filmed and performed elsewhere.
If you go you’ll be impressed with the acting, if not the sets (which are not especially interesting.) You’ll see some great acting as the complicates story unfolds. But be pre4apred to be, if not shocked, at least surprised at how the Playhouse has changed.
Tickets are $24, $21 for seniors, $14 for students. Performances are Friday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m., Saturday, September 15 at 8 p.m., Sunday, September 16 at 2 p.m., Friday and
Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through September 29.
Details: (562) 494-1014, www.lbplayhouse.org
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre
Location: 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach