Carol M. Rice
Any time you’re seeing a play that’s in verse, you have to be ready to adjust your usual sense of understanding, especially in the beginning. While Lovers and Executioners is much more modern than most verse plays, having been written in 1998, it was translated and revised from a comedy by 17th century playwright Montfleury, a rival of Moliere. The rhyme and rhythm is still there, but playwright John Strand provides a much more modern feel to it.
The play begins with a rather dark scene for a comedy: Bernard leaving his wife Julie to die on a deserted island for supposed infidelity. Jump three years ahead and Bernard is planning to marry again. The woman he wants to marry, Constance, wants nothing to do with him. Her mother (never seen in the play) has made the match for Bernard’s money, and Constance has fallen for new-to-town young Frederic. Her other suitor, Don Lope, is not happy about either of these new men in her life and has no problem pulling his sword at any provocation.
Frederic turns out to be Julie in disguise, aided by her faithful friend and would-be lover Octavius. Obviously she didn’t die, and now she wants revenge. Octavius will do anything for this woman and he helps her be appointed the town judge. She then promptly arrests her husband for the murder of his wife. I’m not going provide any spoilers as to whether she executes him for his crime, thereby doing to him what he tried to do to her, or whether she forgives him. You’ll need to see the show to find out.
The supporting characters in Lovers and Executioners are the most interesting, at least in this production. Richard Stubblefield as Octavius gives by far the most layered performance. He is invisible when he needs to be, yet always completely in the scene, and his love for Julie is apparent and heart-breaking from the beginning. A truly exceptional, understated performance.
Shane Strawbridge makes the most of his role as Guzman, the clownish servant of Bernard, who for some reason also acts as Bernard’s confidante. Considering the huge class difference between these two men, this is an odd choice. It almost feels like a character is missing. However, Mr. Strawbridge’s hilarious, spot-on performance makes you glad he’s on the stage as much as he is.
Another stand-out is Eric Dobbins as Don Lope. With his Inigo Montoya-esque accent and bravado, he delivers some of the funniest lines in the play, often as asides. Brilliant. He also comes across as an excellent swordsman, but alas - he is the only one, as the overall fight choreography is woefully inadequate. In the production I saw, the actors seemed very uncomfortable with it and there were sequences where swords didn’t even meet. Admittedly, Bernard and Julie/Frederic are supposed to be lousy swordsmen, but the choreography itself seemed ill-rehearsed. Hopefully this will improve during the run as the actors become more comfortable with it.
Claire Floyd deVries’ set was beautifully simple with faux stucco, stone, and woodwork. John Leach’s lighting and Rich Frolich’s sound design were complementary and worked well with the production. The costumes by Robin Armstrong were overall quite stunning, although Mr. Strawbridge’s shapeless rags and modern loafers were a distraction. Despite the line late in the play about Guzman being in rags, I don’t think it was meant literally – especially as close as he was with the resplendently dressed Bernard.
The script itself is, perhaps, the biggest problem with the production, as it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a light comedy, a dark comedy, or a drama. The genres all seem to be present at various times and they don’t always work together. Director Robin Armstrong does what she can with it, but the second act begins to feel like a bizarre twist on Dr. Seuss after awhile, leaping back and forth between comedy and drama at will, complete with extra sing-song in the actors’ delivery.
Lovers and Executioners was the 1999 winner of the Helen Hayes Award: The Charles MacArthur Prize for Outstanding New Play, and in Circle Theatre’s production, it receives its Ft. Worth premiere. The production is well-done, so make it a full evening in downtown Ft. Worth by grabbing dinner at one of the surrounding restaurants before the show.
LOVERS AND EXECUTIONERS
Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth Street, Ft. Worth, TX 76203
Runs through September 19.
Actual days: Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Tickets are $ 15.00 to 35.00
For info and tix go to www.circletheatre.com address or call the box office at 817-877-3040.