Noë Tallen (left) and Amber Bjork.
Photo by Charlie Gorrill
It was a weekend of verse for me, as all three shows I saw -- Measure for Measure, the Cat in the Hat, and Theatre Pro Rata's latest, Lovers & Executioners -- came complete with metered lines and lots of rhymes.
Lovers & Executioners, a new adaptation of a Restoration work, uses the era's famed rhyming couplets to tell its story. It's something that could easily serve as a distraction -- especially if the actors get locked into the rhymes instead of the meaning of the lines -- but that isn't a problem in this sometimes-tense farce about marriage, love, and revenge.
Noë Tallen stars as Julie, the aggrieved. Her husband, Bernard (Andy Chambers), left her to die on a deserted island three years before the main action of the play because he believed her to have been unfaithful. She has managed to return to their home -- disguised as a man, naturally -- and is looking for ways to extract her revenge.
There are complications. Her husband, now officially widowed, has his eyes on young Constance (Amber Bjork). The vain Don Lope (Jesse Corder) also has his eyes on Constance, while she has found the disguised Julie to be irresistible.
It comes down to some swordplay and eventually a trial to uncover what exactly transpired three years before. There are fierce undercurrents to the farcical story, especially in relations to gender (a disguised Julie can move further and easier in society than she ever could in a dress) and class. That comes out in the actions of two servants, Octavius (Ben Tallen) and Beatrice (Katie Willer), who know their positions are at the behest of their "masters."
Director Carin Bratlie keeps these as undercurrents, letting the decidedly not-P.C. action (it was written in the 17th century, by Antoine Jacob de Montfleury and adapted by John Strand) play out for our enjoyment. The actors invest heavily in their characters, making even the most ludicrous creatures (that would be Constance and Don Lope) have motivation and life.
The play also looks sumptuous. Pro Rata used a Kickstarter campaign to finance costumes and wigs, and they -- created by Mandi Johnson and Brett Dorian -- add a brilliant layer to the proceedings. Not only do they help to bring the era to life, but they help to underscore the characters, such as Bernard's Sun-King yellow courting outfit that is every bit as ridiculous as the play's situations.
IF YOU GO:
Lovers and Executioners
2400 University Ave. W., St. Paul
Through October 14
For information, call 612.234.7135 or online