Flawed but thought provoking

Dead Reckoning

Venue: Performance Works at Granville Island

Dates: February 6-16, 2002

Reviewer: Jane Penistan

To attend the opening night of Aaron Bushkowsky's latest play is an exciting experience. Bushkowsky examines the relationships between three Elizabethan dramatists, set in the climate of political intrigue and paranoia of Elizabeth's reign.

Using playwrights and poets to promote a cause is as old as drama and as contemporary as today's newscast. The unsolved mystery surrounding the death of the young Christopher Marlowe continues to evoke the fascination of scholars and lovers of crime detection today.

In this play, these and the precarious existence of royalty, courtier and commoner alike in the 16th century are displayed. The Protestant Church, still hard-pressed to maintain its established authority in England and over the outlawed Catholic community's continued efforts to regain its former power in the realm, is at the centre of one plot of the play.

Marlowe is seduced into spying for the Protestant Church, betraying his fellow playwright and confessed atheist lover, Thomas Kyd, and indicting his employer Lord Strange. But why? For the thrill of a dangerous enterprise, or just for money? These are the questions Bushkowsky poses.

As the Protestant Church authority, Richard Baines, Donald Adams presents a menacing appearance,which his performance does not quite live up to, and the same is true of Jamie Norris's Ingram Frizer, servant,torturer and assassin.

As Lord Strange, Christopher Gaze is a courtier and the aristocratic owner of a company of players. It would seem to be an error on the part of Bushkowsky to give Strange a scene as a performer,though this is well-acted by Gaze. Strange's endeavours to persuade his playwrights to use their talents to further the Catholic cause appal his dramatists and leads to Strange's downfall and death.

As Christopher Marlowe, Mark Hildreth is young and passionate. Is it because he finds writing for a cause distasteful or for the attraction of being an informer that he does what he does? Dean Paul Gibson's Thomas Kyd is a performance that could not be bettered. He is assured, suitably dissolute but heart-breakingly disillusioned. His torture scene is horrifying and visualises the brutality of the Elizabethan age.

Slightly apart from the other two dramatists, William Shakespeare is the third of the well-known writers for Lord Strange. David Mackay has the look of all the recognised portraits of this most famous poet and maintains a distinctive and memorable personality. His is an intelligent and thoroughly convincing performance.

At the presentation of this play at The Playwrights Theatre Centre's New Playrights Festival, the Mary Queen of Scots scene was outstanding. Chapelle Jaffe gave a breathtaking performance in this role.In the this production, however, her performance is undermined by having her imprisoned by benches and discovered by the lifting of a large sheet. Here the Queen is portrayed as slightly insane, which is historically questionable and detracts from what could be again a stunning moment in the evening.

As Queen Elizabeth,Wendy Noel lacks a regal quality. This may be a fault oOf writing or direction. Too much striding about the stage reduces the strength of her authority. Russell Roberts' Lord Burghley is her noble courtier whose exquisite manners and deportment conceal a devilishly blood-chilling talent for manipulation . Here is the power behind the throne.

As Mrs. Eleanor Bull, Nancy Sivak tries very hard with a character which is not well-defined. If she is a waiting woman to the queen, as she appears to be at first, why is she renting rooms to intinerants and waiting on them in order to earn her living? Why is she kept in ignorance of the death of her son? These are questions the playwright needs to address.

By presenting the play on an apron stage, Glynis Leyshon has retained the Elizabethan character of this modern play, as have the opulent, elegant costumes of Mara Gottler. Unfortunately, the whole production is too busy with a multitude of scene changes involving the running in and out of a table,repositioning of pillars and benches and a chandelier which ascends and descends distractingly during actors' entries and exits.

Music is recognized as a necessity in Elizabethan theatre and here it is beautifully supplied throughout the evening, either accompanying the action or scene bridging, by Ajineen Sagal, the violinist in the stage balcony. But who composed and/or arranged the music? Charming as it is, it is not Elizabethan in style. No acknowledgement of the composer or arranger appears in the programme - a grave omission.

Since this is the first full presentation of this exciting new play, the flaws may be eradicated for the better enjoyment of this fascinating exploration of an Elizabethan mystery. While there is some rewriting for the author to do, the present dialogue is entertaining and witty and the working out of the plots logical. Rightly the audience is left asking some questions. The playwright may be able answer others.

The historical mystery remains with only the reckoning of the dead proven. This is an entertaining, intriguing and thought provoking play which should have a great future. It is one not to be missed in its present short run at Performance Works.

2002, Jane Penistan


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