Kyd’s Play Strictly for Grownups

Celebrating its “four-and-twentieth” season, Marin Shakespeare Company has reached even farther into theatrical history and come up with a pre-Shakespearean hit, Thomas Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy.”
Kyd’s play was packing playhouses by the time Shakespeare arrived in London, and “Spanish Tragedy” was revived over and over, even after The Bard began producing his own work. He certainly would have seen it at least once, and dramatic evidence suggests he borrowed from it here and there.
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” for instance, is rooted in the young prince’s vow to avenge his father’s death, a vow inspired by the father’s angry ghost. In “The “Spanish Tragedy,” it is the father who’s bent on getting revenge for his murdered son. Revenge is a character that lingers onstage in company with the ghost of another murder victim. (Revenge looks and sounds not at all as you might expect.)
The ghost’s former love — now a bereaved young woman — could almost stand in for Ophelia, and “Tragedy’s” smarmy, sneaky young nobleman could double for Iago, the villain in “Othello.” To top off the resemblances, Kyd even scripted a play-within-a-play as payback for the guilty parties, and as in Shakespearean plays to follow, the bodies begin to pile up.
Director Leslie Schisgall Currier has revived this gory old favorite, set it in a multi-level castle and cut it down to a manageable two hours and forty minutes’ playing time. The action begins with a tolling bell and a long funeral march of white-masked mourners. The deceased follows the march, describing the foul deeds that have made him a ghost. Ghost stays visible throughout the play, accompanied by Revenge.
The Duke of Castille, the King’s brother, describes the battle and shows off its most famous prisoner, Balthazar, Prince of Portugal. Horatio has helped apprehend him, though the Duke’s son, Lorenzo, claims that he was the real nabber. Lorenzo’s sister, Bellimperia, captures Balthazar’s attention, and in no time, speculations begin that a marriage between the two would cement peace between their nations. The young lady, however, had been the sweetheart of Don Andrea, now the Ghost pacing the battlements. She is not available, though her servant vows that the lady’s affections have recently turned to Horatio. This information enrages Balthazar; Horatio’s too much in his way.
But despite all the royalty represented onstage, the most complex character in “The Spanish Tragedy” is the judge, Hieronimo. When he finds his beloved son murdered, Hieronomo’s reaction is similar to King Lear’s over the corpse of his daughter, Cordelia. Justice now equals revenge.
In this large, outdoor performance space, trained voices enhance the show. Julian Lopez-Morillas is superb as Hieronomo, commanding the stage with a big voice and big emotions. Scott Coopwood, as the Duke of Castille has a similar presence, as does Jack Powell as the Viceroy of Portugal. Both Elena Wright in the role of Bellimperia and Jessica Powell as Hieronimo’s wife, Isabella, have roles with heavy vocal demands. Erik Johnson plays the ill-fated Horatio, and in three widely varying roles, Steve Price, who grew up on the Peninsula, portrays a Portuguese nobleman, a petitioner and a hangman. In a last-minute substitution on opening night, Liam Hughes took over the role of Balthazar. Twenty-five additional cast members round out this generously-sized production.
“The Spanish Tragedy” will play at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre on the Dominican University campus until August 11 and in repertory with “A Comedy of Errors” after July 27. Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening performances are at 8 PM, with Sunday matinees at 4 PM. For tickets, directions and more information, call 499-4488.
As with all outdoor performances, dress for the weather and bring extra layers as the theatre gets cooler after dark. Picnics are welcome.