I have always enjoyed the works of the prolific Thomas Middleton. Not only are they great on stage, but they are as equally entertaining on page. I read A Mad World, My Masters in anticipation of seeing the ASC's production and knew I would be in for a wild ride. Quite simply, this is the rowdiest, randiest, most bawdy thing I've seen on stage at the Blackfriars and I've seen every production since January 2009.
A Mad World, My Masters is typical of a Jacobean era satirical city comedy (a genre I love). Like many of these plays, the plot surrounds a down on his luck youngster pulling the wool over the eyes of older, established "gentlemen." In this case, Dick Follywit (Greg Phelps) is playing his uncle, Sir Bounteous Progress (Daniel Kennedy) for a fool. In a subplot, we have Sir Penitent Brothel (John Harrell) attempting to cuckold Master Shortrod (HA!) Harebrain (Rene Thornton, Jr.). Tying the two together is the "virgin" Frank Gullman, who sells her virginity to all comers (see, I can write like Middleton) and who aids Brothel and Follywit in their exploits.
There are quite a few standout performances in this production. Daniel Kennedy steals the show with his South Florida inspired Sir Bounteous Progress. He nailed "old man" like I've never seen. You have to see the play just to see the costume! And just the little moves and shaking, dotage gestures were enough to keep me enthralled. Greg Phelps tackles the role of Follywit with gusto and gives one of his best comedic performances. He is aided by the dubious mannered duo of Mawworm (Chris Johnston) and Hoboy (Benjamin Curns) who are somewhat reminiscent of Dicky and Coover from Justified, and the delightful Sarah Fallon. John Harrell is wonderful as the hypocritical Brothel and he totally pulls off a Rick Santorum look (intentional, I presume) with the Bible, sweater vest and nerd glasses. Allison Glenzer kills it as Frank Gullman's Jersey Shore inspired bawdy mom and, of course Miriam Donald is brilliant as Gullman. Thornton turns in a great performance as the duped Harebrain and Brandi Rhome is excellent as always in the role of Mistress Harebrain.
This play is definitely adult oriented, so keep that in mind if bringing kids along. The night I saw it there was a young girl on stage, which resulted in a few cringe worthy moments. Peter Saccio, the acclaimed Dartmouth Shakespeare scholar was sitting behind me at the show I attended and someone asked him his opinion and he laughingly summed it up: "Filthy, just filthy!" If you see it, and I highly recommend you do, be prepared to laugh extremely hard and leave your sensibilities in the lobby. If you are not a fan of the bawdy Jacobean city comedies, go see Much Ado twice in its stead.
Check out the rest of Adrian's reviews on his blog, Mid-Atlantic Traveler.
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