dOn the third day of November, a duchess, her lover and her two brothers took over the small stage of the Massman Theatre. Though there were shining stars and bright moments, the overall play was difficult to understand and poorly translated to the modern world. Aeneid Theatre Company’s “The Duchess of Malfi,” written by John Webster and directed by Emily Hawkins, opened on Halloween night.
The acting was superb throughout the performance. Standout performances included Peren Yesilyurt as Bosola and Ian Melamed as Ferdinand, who each commanded the attention of everyone in the room. Thanks to their monologues and dramatic motions, Yesilyurt and Melamed made it hard to look away. Though the play itself was well-acted, the source material and little set design left normal audience members unfamiliar with the show confused and left to figure out the plot on their own.
The version of the plot performed, from what I understood of it, was set in Italy at the beginning of World War I. Though the time period still felt like a mystery, as the script’s dialogue was written in the 17th century and originally set in the 16th century.
The Duchess, played by the perfectly casted Tessa Buckley, is a modern woman. Buckley fits so well into the role thanks to her graceful presence and rebellious nature. She makes her own choices in life and does not allow the men in her life to decide things for her. When her husband dies, she does not follow the advice of her brothers Ferdinand and the Cardinal (Max Bodak) and chooses to marry her servant, Antonio (Mikey Takla).
When she chooses to marry and start a family with Antonio, who is far below her status, Ferdinand decides to do everything in his power to make her life a living hell. Ferdinand and the Cardinal are excellently portrayed and represent the pitfalls of the evils of misogyny. Overall, the play offered good lessons but it was hard to fully unpack.
The small performance setting and intimate crowd allowed the play to truly take center stage. The set design included a chandelier and red curtains draped in the background. Though the set design was nowhere near impressive, the actors made do with what they had, transforming chairs and benches into desks, beds and coffins.
Though I appreciate the feminist take on an old tale, I wish the script had modern language to truly allow the play to feel as though it took place in the 1920s. I believe that enhancing the set design and costuming to be more specific could have made the time period more apparent throughout the play. Despite the pitfalls of the script itself, the characters were well acted and each performance included amazing diction and a stage-stealing presence.
“The Duchess of Malfi” ran from October 31 to November 3 at the Massman Theatre on campus. For more information about Aeneid Theatre Company, click here.