The Revenger’s Tragedy at La Jolla Playhouse

Last night I went to see the UCSD theater department’s production of Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean play “The Revenger’s Tragedy” at the Potiker Theater. Director Christopher Ashley has been the La Jolla Playhouse’s Artistic Director since 2007. For this production, he took advantage of his position as the first ever Director in Residence at CalIT2–UCSD’s much-admired information technology research center–in order to put a new twist on an old tale. Ashley staged the production as a reality TV show–complete with opening credits based on those of MTV’s The Real World. The form was a great fit for the content: revenge! sex! family drama!

While my date could’ve done without the club music playing on the PA before the show and during intermission, overall, the modern twist made the theater-going experience far more entertaining than it would’ve been as a straight period piece. A multi-tiered set gave the illusion of watching a fishbowl of a funky house (another homage to the Real World) while the actors carried on their base activities in delightfully sexy and outlandish coutre costumes. And, of course, the technology was sexy, too. A camera-crew (occasionally delivering lines as the “lords” of the duke’s castle) followed the characters around so that they could give their asides as “confessionals”–a clever trick. These asides were simul-casted onto a cluster of televisions in the center of the set as well as onto two large screens that could be moved to reveal different rooms of the house.

The integration of technology here was entirely effective. It both provided an interesting aesthetic affect–as when watching a scene taking place in one room while having a single actor’s face projected onto the three large screens–and also opened up some interesting questions about human depravity as media spectacle. It was a refreshing foil to last year’s production of Kamzaa Bar Kamzaa–an earlier effort by CalIT2 researchers to pair with artists in order to produce a multi-media enhanced performance, which just about strangled itself in its efforts to provide an “interactive” experience.

The Revenger’s Tragedy continues through this weekend, so if you’re feeling a little bloodlust or curious about how to effectively integrate high technology into live performance, definitely check it out.

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