Centuries later, 'The Changeling' still a masterpiece

LONG BEACH - Thomas Middleton's tragic masterpiece, "The Changeling," was first performed in 1622. Today, 390 years later, the play remains a classic for its exploration of love, treachery and the lengths some will go to get what they want.In "The Changeling," Beatrice is about to be married, but not to a man that she loves. Her solution? Instead of just giving him his ring back, she pays someone to kill him. There's a little problem though: The hideously deformed killer is in love with her and wants more than just a few gold pieces for his troubles. Set in an insane asylum, this 17th century Jacobean tragi-comedy has been adapted for modern audiences, amplifying its dark twists and turns, gory violence and kinky sex. The show opens on Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Long Beach Playhouse and continues on Friday nights (8 p.m.), Saturday nights (8 p.m.) and Sunday matinees, (2 p.m.) through Sept. 29. We asked director Dave Barton a few questions regarding the play: Q: Was there anything about this play that particularly attracted you to directing it? A: Put a Jacobean tragedy in modern dress and, aside from the language, it's indistinguishable from today's news headlines: Full of backstabbing, politics, mental illness, sex, bloodshed and comedy, the play's concerns about moral fidelity, sexual honesty, the war between men and women and the power money has to corrupt feels very contemporary. The basic premise in one of the tragedies is that someone good does something bad (usually involving sex or murder) and then the domino effect happens, with the play steamrolling towards an ending where all of the play's major characters lie dead on the floor. The plays are rarely performed nowadays and I think that's a real tragedy (pun intended), because all they take is a little editing and a little research to be fully accessible. The poetry of the language has a lot to offer; the work provides juicy, complicated roles for women; they look and feel like movies and there's so much action crammed into a little over two hours, any open-minded audience member is going to get their money's worth. Q: Do you think that the play has some positive messages that relates to today's issues? A: These are dark plays, not smiley-face escapist work, so I probably wouldn't use the word "positive" to describe them. Instead, I'd say they remind us that things haven't changed all that much since the 1600s, so they give us each a gentle (albeit entertaining) push to reflect on the world we live in. In Jacobean plays, women take the brunt of some pretty awful behavior, but the recent political "war against women"-male-dominated legislatures denying them access to abortion or calling them sluts when they demand birth control--is just the latest situation where women are still going through the same crap. People have their hand out a lot in these plays, scrabbling to make a living or being overly influenced by payola, with the differences between classes painfully obvious. The 1 percent versus the 99 percent and Occupy Wall Street come to mind. Q: Was there anything about the play that was difficult to pull off or anything that surprised you? A: I expected that the language would be difficult for some of the actors to pull off, but I've been delighted by how well they "got" the poetry of the dialogue. We took time to go over every line and word that seemed archaic or muddy, focusing on making it sound like people speaking, instead of actors delivering their lines with modernizing inflections. I have a very good cast-from top to bottom -- and that's a rarity. They seem to be enjoying themselves and I've forgotten when I've had this much fun working. Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the show? A: While it's not necessary to have read the play beforehand, like any old text, it helps to have some understanding of the play, so that you don't have to spend the first half-hour getting your ground. Having said that, we've trimmed the text with respect and I'm directing with a modern sensibility, using video and an eclectic variety of music to amplify the mood. We've staged scenes onstage that characters describe seeing off-stage, use blood bags quite liberally, heat up the sexual scenes, embrace all of the dirty jokes and swap guns for swords. I promise that the Long Beach Playhouse patrons have never seen anything like it...unless they watch the nightly news.

********** Published: August 23, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 19

FeaturesEric Pierce