by Toby Zinman
for the Inquirer
As a friend suggested at dinner after we'd seen John Ford's, *The Broken Heart*, there sure has been a paradigm shift in the past few hundred years. And that change is part of what makes Renaissance drama so thrilling: people took themselves and their passions so seriously—not 'taking seriously' as in snarky narcissism, but as in tragedy: love and power and loss and profound error collide and result in unbearable self-knowledge.
Of course, what also makes Renaissance drama so thrilling is the language:how flat and dreary contemporary speech sounds compared to these wild poetic carryings-on (" a wolf of hatred snarling in your breast").
John Ford's best known play is *'Tis Pity She's a Whore* (coming to Brooklyn Academy of Music next month – it's a regular Ford festival), but *The Broken Heart* is rarely performed professionally. It has all the hair-raising pleasures of the genre wherein people suffer thwarted love and jealousy and revenge in all kinds of spectacular ways-- grisly blood-lettings, whispered accusations of incest, creeping madness, starvation, and a whiff of necrophilia. This to-the-hilt (sometimes literally) drama is matched in by to-the-hilt stagecraft in this magnificent production under Selina Carmell's direction.
The plot is complicated beyond summarizing here, but turns on an ambitious brother Ithocles (Saxon Palmer) who forces his sister Penthea ( the outstanding Annika Boras) into a grotesque marriage with a pathologically jealous old man (the excellent Andrew Weems who is both ludicrous and terrifying). Penthea and her lover Orgilus (Jacob Fishel) are thus permanently separated and permanently brokenhearted.
Two other couples are set in contrast to these wrecked lovers: Euphania is Orgilus' sister, and he allows her to marry her true love, while Ithocles asks his miserable sister to plead his suit with Calantha (the superb Bianca Amato), the princess of Sparta.
What a casting inspiration it was to have chosen a blonde, a redhead and a brunette to play the three women who all share the similar misfortunes of gender but all exist individually within their own stories, stories which reveal complex ideas about kingship, sexuality, marriage and gender equity as they are woven through this operatic plot.
Like the flawless acting, the gorgeous costumes (Susan Hilferty) and the moody lighting (Marcus Doshi) create a profoundly theatricalized atmosphere on an elegant evocative set (Antje Ellerman). The Duke Theatre provides an intimate, civilized oasis in the midst of all the schlocky commotion of 42nd Street.
Theatre for a New Audience at The Duke, 229 W. 42nd St., NY. Through March 4. Tickets $75 + $10 New Deal tickets for people 25 and under or full-time