In a country where a rape occurs every two minutes, where an estimated 60-75% of those go unreported, where victims are accused of enticing the crimes and 97% of their rapists never spend a day in jail, this year’s Fringe presentation by the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective of THE RAPE OF LUCRECE, Shakespeare’s infrequently staged epic poem of 1594, is not only the performance of a lifetime by the incomparable Dan Hodge, but also a momentous socio-political statement and a stirring call to activism. This is a production that transcends the entertainment value of live theater and affirms its power in the sphere of human ethics; kudos to the PAC and Hodge on all counts, and for his expressed hope that “we will not need to have this conversation”—about rape culture and victim blaming—“in another four hundred years.”
Told in Livy’s History of Rome (I, 57-60) and Ovid’s Fasti (II, 685-855), the rape, in 509 BC, of the pure Lucretia (wife of Collatinus, a leader in the Roman army) by Sextus Tarquinius (son of the King and friend to the husband) resulted in the woman’s suicide, the overthrow of the royal court of the Tarquins, and its replacement with the Roman Republic (in which Collatinus served as one of the first Consuls). Hodge’s one-man adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragic verse combines enthralling storytelling with dramatic reenactments, as he assumes the roles of the narrator and the legendary male and female characters in his tour-de-force interpretation.
In street clothes on a bare stage (design by Katherine Fritz), Hodge employs but a few props—a trunk, a candle, some matches, a knife, and a glove—as he manifests the actions and emotions, and masterfully delivers Shakespeare’s profound words and insights into the psyches of the victim, violator, and avengers. As the lighting dims, then fades to the flame of a single candle, then plunges into total darkness (“for light and lust are deadly enemies”), Hodge’s voice changes from harsh and gravelly to pleading and despondent, transforming from Tarquin into Lucrece; his demeanor switches from one of aggression and uncontrolled desire that is “strong past reason”—embodying the man’s “frozen conscience” and “hot burning will”—to a fearful, trembling, and devastated woman, who sees suicide as the only escape from the shame and pain of sexual violation. The audience remained spellbound. By my calculation, when you factor Hodge into Shakespeare, the sum of genius is multiplied exponentially.
[Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad Street] September 5-15, 2014; fringearts.com/event/the-rape-of-lucrece-9.
Read another Phindie review of THE RAPE OF LUCRECE.