Violent Delights: A Shakespearean Brawl-esque Sideshow is the first creation of the new company Off the Quill. It’s an ambitious undertaking, particularly for a brand new group, and their enthusiasm is much appreciated.
The creepy circus sideshow tone of the evening is set by the perfectly unsettling sound design of Donald Cook, featuring darkly festive-sounding music with gory lyrics. The three-quarters thrust of the playing area puts the violence directly in the audience member’s laps – exactly where it should be for a “brawl-esque” performance like Violent Delights.
As the name implies, Violent Delights is, well, violent. The show bills itself primarily as a collection of fight scenes from a number of Shakespeare’s bloody pieces, including Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, and Romeo and Juliet, as well as less notably violent works like A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
Though these extensive, intricately crafted dance and fight sequences could, and perhaps should, take center stage, they are written around and serve a second narrative layer superimposed on the story of the “Circus of Violent Delights” to which the ensemble’s Persona, as director Patrick Mullen calls them, belong.
The membrane between the circus performers’ “reality” and the ultra-violent scenes which they enact is permeable, and the violence overcomes the Personae one by one, with disastrous consequences.
The play as a whole might benefit from a clearer initial distinction between the world of the circus and the shows they put on. The show hinges on the audience witnessing and understanding the destruction of any division between the violent fantasy and the reality of the circus – the drama is lost if the reality ever distinctly existed at all.
The deft weaving of Shakespearean language into the non-Shakespearean scenes, while cleverly written and well executed, may contribute to the confusion.
Violent Delights: A Shakespearean Brawl-esque Sideshow
by Patrick Mullen, Katie Wanschura, Leanne Dinverno and J. Peter Langsdorf
645 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
Where Off the Quill excels is in the physicality of its company members. Fight choreographer (and director) Patrick Mullen, along with dance choreographer Kathleen Moors (who also shines as the Shadow, nefarious assistant to Mullen’s Ringmaster) have created a brawling spectacle worthy of any circus. Violent Delights incorporates a diverse array of combat styles, from Japanese Kendo, to Irish stick-fighting, to an American Civil War reenactment. Fighting and dancing blend and become indistinguishable, making what would otherwise be considered gratuitous violence seem beautiful, almost desirable. Alluring and disturbing in equal parts, the “violent” part of Violent Delights is sure to engage the audience.
The revue format of the evening is a demanding one for actors, and the company of Off the Quill rose to the challenge of hopping from character to character, pointedly identifying Shakespeare’s penchant for stereotype while also highlighting where these archetypes break the mold. Brian Harrington Moors died beautifully as Caesar and swore vengeance stirringly as Titus Andronicus, while Joel Lorenzetti breathed new, chilling life into the often-performed Richard III.
If the company focuses on its strengths and develops more work that explores dance and combat, Off the Quill has all the indicators of a theatre company on the rise.