THE WHITE DEVIL (PAC): A bloody good thriller

This thriller opens with a party. The costumes are formal and the sexual partners are quickly established. Duke Brachiano (played by Jared Reed) wants Vittoria (played by Charlotte Northeast) for sexual desires, and Flamineo (played by Dan Hodge) helps conspire the adulterous relationship. Sketches by Chuck Schultz.

This thriller opens with a party. The costumes are formal and the sexual partners are quickly established. Duke Brachiano (played by Jared Reed) wants Vittoria (played by Charlotte Northeast) for sexual desires, and Flamineo (played by Dan Hodge) helps conspire the adulterous relationship. Sketches by Chuck Schultz.

I was recently told that stage blood comes in three “flavors”: regular (kinda corn-syrupy), sugar-free, and mint. This peculiar tidbit may linger in your mind as you watch the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective’s noirlike staging of THE WHITE DEVIL, in PAC’s final production at their Broad Street Ministry home.

As a true Jacobean tragedy, John Webster’s 1612 play moves inexorably from sugar-free foreboding to a mint-scented blood-bath. We follow the machinations of Flamineo (the intelligent, darkly funny Dan Hodge) a striving servant who hopes to forge a coupling between his master Brachiano (quietly complex Jared Reed) and sister Vittoria (powerful Charlotte Northeast).

The match is unsurprisingly opposed by the pair’s respective spouses, Vittoria’s husband Camillo (played as an endearing bumbler by Adam Altman) and Bachiano’s loyal wife Isabella (given a fitting nobility by Mary Lee Bednarek). Isabella’s brother Francisco (smartly dignified John Lopes) and clergyman Monticelso (Brian McCann, in another strong and amusing performance in a season replete with them) plot to foil Flamineo and Bachiano, and to revenge their murderous ploys.

The cardinal (played by Brian McCann) and Francisco de Medici (played by John Lopes) charge the affair between the Duke and Vittoria. Isabella (played by Mary Lee Bednarek) shows us her ring. The power of the Medicis, and the ring that symbolizes love are setting the scene for a messy divorce of lust and power. Scketch by Chuck Schultz.

The cardinal (played by Brian McCann) and Francisco de Medici (played by John Lopes) charge the affair between the Duke and Vittoria. Isabella (played by Mary Lee Bednarek) shows us her ring. The power of the Medicis, and the ring that symbolizes love are setting the scene for a messy divorce of lust and power. Scketch by Chuck Schultz.

This synopsis merely scratches the surface of a convoluted yet compelling plot. At times, the various strands are weighed down in side-plots and “who is this character again?” reappearances (complicated further by necessary dual castings). That PAC’s production remains engaging for its 2 ½-hour running time is a testament to the quality of its performances (evident in my parenthetical descriptions) and a clear directorial vision from Damon Bonetti.

With the help of costume designer Katherine Fritz, Bonetti gives the late Shakespearean-era tragedy the veneer of a mid-20th century hard-boiler. The device succeeds admirably, Webster’s plot unfolds like a mystery, with more murders and plot twists than a paperback thriller. As with other PAC productions, the centuries-old piece never feels archaic, and its modern-if-not-contemporary setting never feels slapped on or anachronistic.

As Bonetti and his players realize and respect, Webster’s themes remain relevant: Flamineo’s desire for power, the jealousies and irrationality of love, the unexpected victims of our actions. Similarly to the plot, the script is almost sententious in its superb pithyness.

Small mischiefs are by greater made secure,” says Brachiano. Bloodily true until it bloodily isn’t. Bloody good stuff.

 This Film Noir like scene shows the men at gymnastics table and women taking their revenge. The young Giovani, the Dukes son (played by Lexie Braverman) and Marcello (played by David Pica) cover their eyes before witnessing the crime.  Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

This Film Noir like scene shows the men at gymnastics table and women taking their revenge. The young Giovani, the Dukes son (played by Lexie Braverman) and Marcello (played by David Pica) cover their eyes before witnessing the crime. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

[Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad Street] May 3-20, 2017; philartistscollective.org

The trial brings with a judge (played by Adam Altman) entering the room  and Cardinal Monticelso (played by Brian McCann) to discuss the lowly women in the play, Vittoria and Zanche. Cardinal Monticelso (Brian McCann) explains what a whore is. As this is happening, Brachiano (Jared Reed) looks more guilty, laying down in a comfortable position with his legs crossed. He is the cause of this whore trial, but men are not convicted of the same sexist crimes. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

The trial brings with a judge (played by Adam Altman) entering the room and Cardinal Monticelso (played by Brian McCann) to discuss the lowly women in the play, Vittoria and Zanche. Cardinal Monticelso (Brian McCann) explains what a whore is. As this is happening, Brachiano (Jared Reed) looks more guilty, laying down in a comfortable position with his legs crossed. He is the cause of this whore trial, but men are not convicted of the same sexist crimes. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

Flamineo (Dan Hodge) and Cornelia (played by J.J VanName) have a fight. While Vittoria (Charlotte Northeast) seems to look up to the mother Flamineo despises her for his lack of wealth. As Flamineo and Zanche (played by Lexie Braverman) are fooling around, Flamineo urges the Duke to have his way with Vittoria. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

Flamineo (Dan Hodge) and Cornelia (played by J.J VanName) have a fight. While Vittoria (Charlotte Northeast) seems to look up to the mother Flamineo despises her for his lack of wealth. As Flamineo and Zanche (played by Lexie Braverman) are fooling around, Flamineo urges the Duke to have his way with Vittoria. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.