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Pschologicial drama at A.R.T

Robert Brustein considers The Changeling to be a "particularly modern play." If so, his American Repertory Theatre production emphasizes yet further its disturbing psychology.

Two characters -- Beatrice-Joanna and De Flores -- hold center-stage. Beatrice-Joanna is beautiful and in demand not only by the man her father has arranged her to marry, but also by both her true-love Alsemero and by the ugly and unloved De Flores.

De Flores kills the unwanted fianc'e on request from Beatrice-Joanna, planning to have her for himself, and as the evening unwinds he gains control of her.

John Bottoms made De Flores the central character in Brustein's Changeling, creating a role of remarkable power and complexity. We briefly feel sympathy for Mozart's Osmin, the moor who is unloved because of the color of his flesh; so also do we fleetingly feel for Bottoms' De Flores until we see any illusions of humanity removed by his passion-fired killings on behalf of Beatrice-Joanna and his satanic domination of her. His silent presence spoke violence, but when he spoke words, Bottoms' lines flowed hypnotically, ripples in De Flores' serpentine form highlighting the gripping words of text. Bottoms' monster was as magnetic as he was repulsive, a flawlessly-painted predator for Beatrice-Joanna.

Karl Lundeberg's eerie score fortified De Flores' role further. The disembodied music brought a stifflingly understated tension to the stage just before De Flores kills Alonzo, the unwanted fianc'e. Throughout the play the music heralds danger. But no suspense is lost through anticipation of the next piece of gore: The music concentrates the focus, making the subsequent acts of De Flores all the more horrific.

Diane D'Aquila did not bring a strong opening to the role of Beatrice-Joanna, but grew into the part as the plot developed, making a mezmerizing victim-accomplice to Bottoms' De Flores by action's end. Harry Murphy also started the role of Alsemero weakly: He was initially unconvincing in showing his love for Beatrice-Joanna. But he, too, developed fire, concluding his part compellingly.

Jack Stehlin was vigorous in his portrayal of Tomazo, bent on avenging his brother Alonzo's death. Smelling trouble from the start Tomazo -- who lacks the complexity of the othe characters -- remains true to his brother's name to the end. Stehlin's straightforward action and clear, direct, diction captured Tomazo's sincerity, a voice at odds with the deceit all around him.

Brustein has carefully studied the relationships of Middleton's protagonists, and brought new life to this rivetting drama. Go see it.

Jonathan Richmond->