“Fortune’s a right whore:
If she give aught, she deals it in small parcels,
That she may take away all at one swoop.”
John Webster’s 1612, White Devil at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is a mix of so many styles, that one has to wonder what it is. From the disco like Versace costumes by Beth Goldenberg (love that purple dress), to horribly made video’s by Lana Birykove (trying to rip off Ivo van Hove), making their home on a slick modern set by Kate Nell, to the Saturday Night Live direction by Louisa Proske, I was beyond confused as to what Red Bull Theater’s normally brilliant endeavors were trying to convey.
Much like the Marquis de Sade, Webster’s talk of playing football with severed heads, almost feels like the verse, that incites a riot in Quills. The play also has an obsession with whores and what they are and are like.
“You know what whore is. Next the devil adultery,
Enters the devil murder.”
With theme’s of infidelity, classism, violence, misogyny, deceit, greed, corruption, a dehumanizing society, religion and familial dysfunction at its core, The White Devil seems like it would read like todays newspaper headings. Instead it is treated like a sketch comedy, drawn more for laughter than theatre.
The premise is loosely based on the real life of Vittoria Accoramboni (Lisa Birnbaum) an Italian noblewoman. Having been wed to Camillo (Derek Smith), a man of no position, but nephew to Cardinal Monticelso (Robert Cuccioli), soon to become pope. The Duke of Bracciano (Daniel Oreskes), one of the most powerful men in Rome, is in lust with her and she with him. Her brother Flamineo (Tommy Schrider) is trying to arrange for the two to shed their spouses and marry each other.
In the meantime Francisco de Medici (T. Ryder Smith) brother to the duke’s wife Isabella (Jenny Bacon), has brought Cardinal Monticelso to bring the marriage back together. In person The Duke of Bracciano agrees, but when alone with his wife tells her this will never happen. In one of the most confusing scenes of the whole play, Isabella tells her brother and the Cardinal it is she who does not want to stay married. Despite this Camillo and Isabella are murdered. Though the Duke is suspected of murdering his wife, Vittoria is blamed and imprisoned in a place for women of ill repute. Flamineo and his brother Marcello (Amara James Aja) are accused of killing Camillo, but escape sentencing. Once Vittoria is free the Duke marries her, but Francisco, Monticelso and an Italian Count Lodovico (Smith again) who was in love with Isabella plot and execute revenge, in a scene where most of the people on stage die a gory bloody death.
There are over 20 characters including Socorro Santiago as the moralistic mother to Vittoria, Flamineo and Marcello. Cherie Corinne Rice in her dual roles as the servant Zanche and the son of Brachiano, which is highly confusing. Edward O’Blenis plays the assassin Gasparo, a conjurer and a guard.
At the heart of the play is Lisa Birnbaum, whose gutsy Vittoria, stands up for what she believes. Daniel Oreskes and Robert Cuccioli, though both are good, seem to have been cast in the others role. T. Ryder Smith is intense and Tommy Schrider seems to over act, as does Socorro Santiago in her numerous roles, though she is rather good as the mother. The roles played by Derek Smith, as Vittoria’s weak and cuckolded husband and then as the sociopathic Lodovico, are quite interesting in their distinctiveness.
The White Devil isn’t easy to follow due to Webster’s complex plot and the casting. Add to that the semi modern era of the costumes, set and video played against language that has not been updated, nor cut and the satiric humor in which the show has been directed. We also get automatic weapons, power tools, and gym equipment to pull off the murders. Dramatic lighting by JiYoun Chang and a soundtrack of techno and hard rock music by Chad Raines.
The White Devil: Red Bull Theatre at the Lucille Lortel, 154 Christopher, until April 14th.
“As in this world there are degrees of evils,
So in this world there are degrees of devils.”