Epic intra-family feudal battles, hot sex, spurting blood, greed, slapstick humor and bewildering mayhem — Jesse Berger and Red Bull Theater’s The Revenger’s Tragedy is unadulterated fun. With raunchy dance numbers, more knifings than a hundred West Side Stories, and civic overtones relevant to today’s geopolitical climate, it is the very embodiment of Theater. The costuming by Clint Ramos, beyond camp, features wonderful leather contraptions, corsets, fur coats, leopard skins, high boots, chains and 17th-century ruffles that lend the production an apropos Edwardian, punk/disco hyper-mania.
An anonymous Jacobean “revenge drama” often ascribed to Thomas Middleton and initially to Cyril Tourneur, freely adapted by Berger, The Revenger’s Tragedy is typically cynical, deeply suspicious of authority, and chock full of faux brutal, eye-popping violence. It inhabits a world in which suspicion of political rule is a given, the royal court of the play corrupt and monstrous. The heroes, led by a spirited Matthew Rauch as chief “revenger,” Vindice, are hardly without vice themselves. Indeed, the desire for vengeance in lieu of perceived and actual wrongs is the seed of the play’s often hilarious ugliness.
The final scene, a grand orgy of bloodletting, lying, and good intentions gone awry, is an amazing spectacle of bombastic elegance that elicited gasps from the audience. The final image of Vindice’s virginal sister kneeling to give a blow-job to the eventual “moral” ruler of the kingdom left one pondering not only the ethical compass of power and authority, but the very nature of morality and justice.