Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding at the American Shakespeare Center

The American Shakespeare Center's Actors' Renaissance Season is now in full swing with the addition of the third play of the repertory.   The most exciting aspect of this Season is the opportunity to see full productions of plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries.   This season works by Thomas Middleton and Christopher Marlowe are being presented.   Yet, do not miss the opportunity to see the rarely performed Fletcher and Beaumont play, Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding.

Philaster, the rightful heir to the throne of Sicily is kept free by the usurper the King of Calabria because he is popular with the subjects.    Philaster is in love with the king's daughter Arethusa, but she is promised in marriage to Pharamond, prince of Spain.   Philaster gives his loyal servant boy Bellario to Arethusa to help keep their clandestine love alive.   Meanwhile, Pharamond, being a hot-blooded man, seeks comforts of the flesh with Megra, one of Arethusa's gentlewomen.    Caught inflagrante by several noblemen of the court, Megra swears that Arethusa is unfaithful with Bellario.   Naturally all of the men, including her father and Philaster believe the tale.   There is much misunderstanding and heartbreak mixed with genuinely comic moments.   As the title mentions blood is shed before surprise revelations bring about a happy ending to the play.

The entire ensemble provides great characterizations no matter how big or small their roles.  Rene Thornton, Jr. as the usurping King, is both uneasy villain and paranoid about the rightful heir, Philaster.   As Philaster, Gregory Jon Phelps paints more than the wronged prince showing that the character has a dual nature.   He navigates the tricky emotional path of the ardent lover, the aggrieved prince, and the heartbroken soul creating a sympathetic performance out of a role that could easily be portrayed as very unsympathetic.

Sarah Fallon is gentle sweet as the wronged Princess Arethusa.   Her performance will bring a tear in your eyes as her Arethusa steadfastly remains true to her beloved Philaster, willing to make sacrifices to prove her devotion.  Miriam Donald assays well the role of the noble servant Bellario.  While it is very clear to the audience that Ms. Donald is great with child in real life, it is a credit to her acting skills that we quickly accept the character for what he truly is, a noble spirited youth clearly in love with his master who accepts with patience the twists and turns of the tale.

Allison Glenzer vamps it up as the villainous Megra.  At first, the character appears to be the standard bawdy comic relief, but Ms. Glenzer emphasizes the characters' villainous nature.   She sizzles her way through the performance creating a villain you will love to hate.

The true outstanding performance is given by Aidan O'Reilly as the brash fop prince of Spain, Pharamond.    Mr. O'Reilly has made vocal, physical and costume choices that are very risky, yet pays off in spades.   Pharamond is an over -the-top character and Mr. O'Reilly takes clear delight in the villainy and comedy of the character.  Every moment he is on stage is a delight.

The play itself is a great deal of fun.  The actors, who direct themselves have found creative ways to bring their characters to life and have costumed themselves in ways that telegraph to the audience just who their characters are supposed to represent.   If you are familiar with Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing you will see parallels with the accusations against Hero in that play in the way in which Arethusa and Bellario are falsely accused.   The perils faced by our heroes and heroine are many and very convoluted, but the journey to happily ever after is a welcome one to take with the talented company at the American Shakespeare Center.

Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher will be presented as part of the Actors' Renaissance Season at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia in repertoire with William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and Richard III, Thomas Middleton's A Mad World, My Masters, and Christopher Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage through April 6, 2012. For tickets and other performance information, please visit

During the Actors' Renaissance Season there are no directors or designers. The American Shakespeare Center recreates what extensive research believes were the conditions that Shakespeare's acting company would have used to stage a play. The actors receive only cue scripts containing their lines and a short "cue", the last few words of the preceding actor's line. They are responsible for acquiring their own costumes and props from the stock available at the theater. There is a prompter on the side of the stage in case someone forgets a line. The rehearsal period is a matter of days.

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