Wednesday, August 5, 2015


by Toby Zinman



 by Toby Zinman

 for the Inquirer

As a friend suggested at dinner after we’d seen John Ford’s, *The Broken Heart*, there sure has  been a paradigm shift in the past few hundred years. And that change is part of what makes Renaissance drama so thrilling: people took themselves and their passions so seriously—not 'taking seriously' as in snarky narcissism, but as in tragedy: love and power and loss and profound error collide and result in unbearable self-knowledge.

Of course, what also makes Renaissance drama so thrilling is the language:how flat and dreary contemporary speech sounds compared to these wild poetic carryings-on (" a wolf of hatred snarling in your breast").

John Ford’s best known play is *‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore* (coming to Brooklyn Academy of Music next month – it’s a regular Ford festival), but *The Broken Heart* is rarely performed professionally. It has all the hair-raising pleasures of the genre wherein people suffer thwarted love and jealousy and revenge in all kinds of spectacular ways-- grisly blood-lettings, whispered accusations of incest, creeping madness, starvation, and a whiff of necrophilia. This to-the-hilt (sometimes literally) drama is matched in by to-the-hilt stagecraft in this magnificent production under Selina Carmell’s direction.

The plot is complicated beyond summarizing here, but turns on an ambitious brother Ithocles (Saxon Palmer) who forces his sister Penthea ( the outstanding Annika Boras) into a grotesque marriage with a pathologically jealous old man (the excellent Andrew Weems who is both ludicrous and terrifying).  Penthea and her lover Orgilus (Jacob Fishel) are thus permanently separated and permanently brokenhearted.

Two other couples are set in contrast to these wrecked lovers: Euphania is Orgilus'  sister, and he allows her to marry her true love, while Ithocles asks his miserable sister to plead his suit with Calantha (the superb Bianca Amato), the princess of Sparta.

What a casting inspiration it was to have chosen a blonde, a redhead and a brunette to play the three women who all share the similar misfortunes of gender but all exist individually within their own stories, stories which reveal complex ideas about kingship, sexuality, marriage and gender equity as they  are woven through this operatic plot.

Like the flawless acting, the gorgeous costumes (Susan Hilferty) and the  moody lighting (Marcus Doshi) create a profoundly theatricalized atmosphere on an elegant evocative set (Antje Ellerman). The Duke Theatre provides an intimate, civilized  oasis in the midst of all the schlocky commotion of 42nd Street.



Theatre for a New Audience at The Duke, 229 W. 42nd St., NY. Through March 4. Tickets $75 + $10 New Deal tickets for people 25 and under or full-time

students. Information: 646-223-3010 or



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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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