The best thing about Arden of Faversham at the Lucille Lortel Theatre is that not only is there the play’s internal intrigue – will Arden be murdered? – but there is the added mystery of the play’s authorship. According to the program, the play was originally published without attribution. Then, in subsequent years, Will Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, and others were proposed as possible authors. Eventually, in the 21st century, computer analysis tagged Shakespeare as having
written the core middle scenes and another hand as having written the bookending scenes. On the other hand, unless some miracle occurs, it’s likely the truth will never be known leaving endless opportunities for speculation. But even for those not eternally intrigued by the hunt for lost and missing, or misappropriated Shakespearean texts, the absolute fun of this show is more than enough to entertain and delight.
Under the guiding principle that Arden of Faversham is the world’s first example of a noir story as well as based on a true 1551 story – basically, the first “Law and Order,” in this adapted version, a joint effort by playwrights, Jeffrey Hatcher and Kathryn Walat, the story is simple enough: Alice (played with cunning femme fatale aplomb by Cara Ricketts) has fallen in love with a tailor, Mosby (Tony Roach), and they prefer to be together despite Alice’s marriage to Thomas Arden (Thomas Jay Ryan). Multiple schemes
are hatched involving characters of disrepute. Black Will (David Ryan Smith) and Shakebag (Haynes Thigpen) (the reference to Shakespeare cannot be ignored with those two names) are hired; they are reminiscent of the bumbling Dogberry of Much Ado About Nothing. Thigpen is especially hysterical, channeling a blundering version of Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy (or indeed any other Nicholson role) down to the beanie cap and general dishevelment. Clarke, a painter, is also employed to assist with the deed;
his promised reward? Susan (Emma Geer), Mosby’s sister and Alice’s ladies’ maid. Joshua David Robinson, who plays multiple roles, both comic and dramatic, is charmingly funny as Clarke.
Like many Shakespearean characters, early on in the play, Alice muses on the nature and faces of love:
“Sweet Mosby is the man that hath my heart,
And he usurps it, having naught but this,
That I am tied to him my marriage.
Love is a god, and marriage is but words;
And therefore Mosby’s title is best.
Tush! Whether it be or no, he shall be mine
In spite of him, of Hymen, and of rites.”
The play reveals Alice’s journey from innocent love, lustful love, jealous love, conscientious love, and
finally mature love (as short-lived as it might be). Alice is the throbbing heart of this play noir and the
character’s strong female presence and psychological insights are the strongest arguments for a
Shakespearean hand in this story-telling. Additionally, there are also blood-stained hands that will not be
easily cleansed, poison consumed by the wrong target, and suitors warring for the same woman’s hand.
The show plays up the connectivity between the Elizabethan era and the modern-ish day. The costumes
are the most immediate visual that draws this line between the centuries: the men wear modern-day pin-
striped suits or trousers and shirts topped with brocaded and puffed sleeve 16th-century jackets. Alice,
the lead character, is corseted with a T-shirt underneath, and at times, multi-tiered skirts showing plenty of
gams. Even the music supports the link between centuries: before the show, strains of classical lute
music played quietly underneath the burble of the audience drifting to their seats. During the intermission,
a jazzy mid-century number and finally post-show, Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.”
The play’s detailed atmosphere is exquisite. There is a fiery cauldron that is the backdrop for a steamy
scene between Alice and Mosby. A small boat sails the stage while a trap door serves as the river depths
for one of the characters to sink beneath the waves. And as the story reaches its inevitable conclusion, a
snowstorm complete with snow drifts – an element taken directly from the origin story of Arden.
Even if this play was not written by Shakespeare, this production of Arden of Faversham is so gratifying
and enjoyable that it’s a strong contender for inclusion in the canon.
Arden of Faversham is presented by Red Bull Theater, Jesse Berger, Founder & Artistic Director, by
special arrangement with the Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation.
Featuring: Veronica Falcon, Zachary Fine, Emma Geer, Cara Ricketts, Tony Roach, Joshua David
Robinson, Thomas Jay Ryan, Thom Sesma, David Ryan Smith, and Haynes Thigpen.
Directed by Jesse Berger.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Clare Cioffero.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.