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Theater review: Antaeus Company's 'The Malcontent' at Deaf West Theatre

May 12, 2011 |  3:00 pm

Malcontent_Wittols_1NC It's interesting to note that John Marston's 1603 play, “The Malcontent,” is included in an Oxford Press edition of Jacobean tragedies. Considering the boffo laughs engendered by the play’s present production at Deaf West Theatre, that designation seems a misnomer.

It's true that Marston's pungently satiric tragicomedy defies easy categorization. It's also easy to see that the play could have been played very straight, with more emphasis on the tragical than the comical.  But director Elizabeth Swain and her confederates at the award-winning Antaeus Company approach the production, which features two alternating casts, with a no-holds-barred broadness that wouldn’t be amiss at a Three Stooges festival. And although a few of the gags don’t quite come off, the results are mostly hilarious. 

Marston’s prolix plot concerns the deposed Duke Altofront (JD Cullum, alternating in the role with Bo Foxworth), who has assumed the alter ego of Malevole the Malcontent in the court of the usurping Duke Pietro (Mark Doerr, alternating with Bill Brochtrup).  A sort of Jacobean Don Rickles, Malevole skewers all with his bitter wit, without regard to caste.  However, the main object of his imposture is regaining his lost dukedom.

The events leading up to that denouément would challenge the synthesizing skills of a CliffsNotes preparer. But Swain's effervescent staging anchors the action, while the skillful cast, cavorting in A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's sumptuous period costumes, handles Marston’s crackling language with rare facility. Granted, the Antaeus veterans nail down their laughs more consistently than the younger actors, but all fit seamlessly into Swain's comical construct. In a program note, Cullum refers to the play as a “Jacobean poetry slam.” It's an apt description for this bawdy, waggish and surprisingly contemporary evening.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“The Malcontent,” Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays.  Ends June 19.  $30 and $34.  (818) 506-1983.  www.antaeus.org.  Running time:  2 hours, 30 minutes.

Photo: JD Cullum, left, and Paul Willson in "The Malcontent."  Credit: Geoffrey Wade.

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