By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Directed by Luciana Silvestre Fernandes. A Department of Theatre and Film at UBC production. At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts’ Telus Studio Theatre on Thursday, January 16. Continues until February 1
A woman, days after her engagement to a man she’s ambivalent about, discovers her true love a moment too late. It’s a premise that would easily work for a modern romantic comedy, but in the Jacobean-era tragedy The Changeling, a macabre meditation on lust and passion ensues. Under the direction of Luciana Silvestre Fernandes, the play becomes an expressionist evocation of entrapment, in a patriarchal world of imposed wills and inflexible desire.
In the Spanish city of Alicante, Beatrice-Joanna (Bonnie Duff) is the daughter of Vermandero (Liam McCulley), the local governor, who has promised her in marriage to Alonzo de Piracquo (Connor Riopel), a noble lord. Meeting nobleman Alsemero (Hayden Davies) at a church, she finds that her affections have shifted entirely to him, and now she’s faced with the quandary of an unwanted union. Enlisting the help of her father’s servant, De Flores (Kyle Preston Oliver), she conspires to kill Alonzo, freeing her to marry Alsemero. Unbeknownst to her, the lecherous De Flores has other plans for them, and odious events are set in motion.
First performed in 1622, Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s play is a work that touches on universal themes that transcend the period in which it was written—notions of trust and honour abound, as does unbridled desire. Characters are unguarded in their assumptions about each other, as Alonzo is in his unfazed infatuation with Beatrice, and the latter is in her unsuspecting dependence on De Flores.
Such displays of confidence seem a ripe commentary on the limits of human perception and its inevitable failures in judgment. Reinforcing this view is the comic subplot involving the insecure Alibius (Lorenzo Tesler-Mabe) and his young wife Isabella (Monica Bowman), whose fidelity is greater than the men he has trusted to guard it. Rounding out this production is an expression of Beatrice’s inner state, as spectral figures that appear at moments of anguish, bearers of psychic distress.
Fernandes unfolds the action at several heights in the Telus Studio Theatre, creating clusters of scenes on the various levels of seating in the tiered venue. Employed by scenic designer Luis Bellassai, ropes form a metaphorical geometry, crisscrossing in a tangled web from floor to ceiling, which also stands in for archways and passages.
Charlotte Di Chang’s costume design is likewise poetic, from Beatrice’s blood-red regalia to De Flores’s spiked epaulettes to the copper-coloured ensembles that distinguish the subplot’s players.
Wisps of organ and violin populate sound designer Jacob Wan’s scene transitions, which complement a soundscape of Beatrice’s mental fixations, including incidental cues of moaning and knocking. Lastly, the show’s cast conveys 17th-century language with a flourish, vividly rendering the text into haunting action, its musicality and impact intact.
As a reflection on the fallibility of judgment and impulsiveness of passion, The Changeling is a work that continues to illuminate immutable human traits. From a contemporary perspective, new stagings can also explore the concealed cost of psychological burden, allowing for fresh readings of a classic story.