Women Beware Women

MIDDLETON CLASS Fishel and Meisle canoodle in style.

MIDDLETON CLASS Fishel and Meisle canoodle in style. Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Red Bull Theater explores lust horizons in its sumptuous revival of Women Beware Women, and the territory is fraught with traps. Thomas Middleton’s rarely performed Jacobean tragedy is a wanton soup of pandering, adultery, incest and general lewdness; as might be expected, it ends in a saturnalia of death. Yet if wickedness in Middleton’s play is sexually transmitted, it is also a symptom of the larger societal ills of hypocrisy and materialism, which encourage the trafficking of women among fathers, husbands and guardians. Malice, here, is a social disease.

It would be easy to get lost in the surface dazzle of Jesse Berger’s whip-smart production: David Barber’s clever set, with its divine deus ex machina; and especially Clint Ramos’s astonishingly luxurious costumes, the most beautifully conceived and executed of any I have seen this year. But the performances pull you back into the play’s strange reality. Nearly the whole cast is excellent, led by Kathryn Meisle as the sexy, conniving Livia. (She’s like Annette Bening’s kittenish Marquise de Merteuil from Valmont, grown up into a cougar.) Jennifer Ikeda plays the easily spoiled Bianca; Jacob Fishel is her cuckolded husband; and Geraint Wyn Davies is her suave seducer, the Duke of Florence. Two old hands steady the ensemble: Roberta Maxwell as Bianca’s gull of a mother-in-law, and the Ridiculous Theatrical Company mainstay Everett Quinton as a waddling, fluttering nobleman. Once again, Red Bull delivers classical theater with a sharply modern edge: lust without the dust.

Theater at St. Clement's. By Thomas Middleton. Dir. Jesse Berger. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.