Thomas Arden (Thomas Jay Ryan) was a leading citizen in Faversham, a town in Kent. He served as mayor, he acquired church land, and on February 15, 1551, he was murdered by his wife, Alice (Cara Ricketts), her lover, Richard Moseby (Tony Roach), and their accomplices. The story was quite popular in London. When Arden of Faversham was first printed in 1592, the events of the play would be lived memory for some in the audience much as a modern audience might remember the Night Stalker killings of Richard Ramirez. The authorship of Arden has never been confirmed, but scholars have suggested Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare.
The subject matter is well-suited to the Red Bull Theater, which specializes in violent Jacobean drama. In the past, their best productions have stuck close to the period, and the company serves an important purpose in spotlighting late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century plays outside the Shakespearean canon.
It is therefore disappointing that the adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher and Kathryn Walat emphasizes the comedy to the detriment of what is really a domestic tragedy. This isn’t to say that tragedies cannot be funny—the ghost scene in Macbeth, for example, is often hilarious—but by ignoring the violence of the situation, they seem to have missed quite a bit of rich material. Director Jesse Berger, who made the same misstep with a production of The Changeling, is more comfortable with broad comedy. But Arden of Faversham has so many weird and macabre details, like the poisoned oil painting that drives its viewer to suicide, that this tone fails to accommodate. It needs more blood and guts.
Arden of Faversham runs through April 1st at the Lucille Lortel Theater. 121 Christopher Street New York, NY. 1 hour 45 minutes. One intermission. Photograph by Carol Rosegg.