With The Changeling, Jaybird O'Berski Runs Amok Through a Quintessentially Problematic Seventeenth-Century Script and Leaves Us to Figure Out What to Make of It | Theater | Indy Week

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With The Changeling, Jaybird O'Berski Runs Amok Through a Quintessentially Problematic Seventeenth-Century Script and Leaves Us to Figure Out What to Make of It

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The Changeling - PHOTO BY TIM WALTER
  • Photo by Tim Walter
  • The Changeling

Through Saturday, May 19
The Fruit/Mystery Brewing/Culture Mill
www.littlegreenpig.com

In the seventeenth century, a couple of swells named Middleton and Rowley wrote a play about people using sex as a bargaining chip, a lever, an escape route, a weapon—anything but a token of love. One half is set in a castle where everyone wants somebody murdered in exchange for sex or vice versa, the other in an insane asylum. The linked plots are a rather disgusting roundelay of sexual coercions and assaults, triple betrayals and love quadrangles, disguises and virgin swaps. The dispiriting point seems to be that women who want to have sex with people their families didn't choose deserve the bad ends they meet. This is considered a high point of Jacobean tragedy.

In the twenty-first century, Little Green Pig director Jaybird O'Berski injected his anarchic spirit into this archaic material, plopped into three venues, and left us on our own to figure out what to make of it.

The play is staged in two rooms. In the castle scenes, the text, read at headlong speed, was sometimes hard to parse, particularly in Shelby Hahn's mutter as the loathsome DeFlores. A crisp, vivid Rebecca Bossen owned this act as Beatrice-Johanna, scheming to get DeFlores to kill her fiancé. Scholarly articles about seventeenth-century sexual mores complicate Beatrice-Johanna's rape, but to us, it is just rape, staged with trigger-warning-worthy brutality and followed by a clown orchestra playing The Pixies. Meanwhile, the asylum scenes are a kind of Borscht Belt music revue, as if Diane Arbus had shot an episode of America's Got Talent. This part of the show is fun—if you can handle copious dick jokes.

The garish onslaught is hypnotic; we kept settling in and then being startled, like wait, what am I watching, and why? This isn't for Renaissance theater buffs, who would hate it, and if there's a modern criticism in the mayhem, it's hard to find. It's pure O'Berski-style extremity: half classic and half modern, half sparkly and half ugly, half serious and half crazy, half wonderful and half terrible. It deserves either all the stars or none (which we averaged out to three). Is O'Berski trolling us? Maybe, and while this is far from our favorite Little Green Pig show, that's what keeps us coming back.

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