Artaud utilized Shelley's dramatic text to explore his vision of Theatre of Cruelty. The Cenci became a vehicle for Artaud's belief that in addition to containing a certain amount of cruelty, theatre should not subjugate itself to the dramatic text; it should instead substitute gesture, movement and tableaux for traditional linear text. Artaud's controversial production ran only 17 performances in 1935 at the Folies Wagram in Paris.
The Cenci is now a dramatic canvas for another director's vision, as John Jahnke adapts Artaud's vision into his own, for a limited engagement at the Ohio Theatre through Feb. 23.
The historical 1599 account of The Cenci, according to press notes, follows "Beatrice Cenci, the daughter of an affluent yet criminal patriarch, [who] finds her family fortune drained by the Vatican when her father is indicted in a series of felonies. Rather than give in to their tyrannical, ruinous demands, Cenci publicly announces his intent to destroy his family of his own volition, raping his daughter in the process. Beatrice, undefeated by her father's outrage, embroils the family in a plot to have him murdered. En route to the scaffold, mobbed by the Roman populace who've declared her a heroine, she admits her crime but not her guilt, yet ruminates, 'I'm afraid that death will reveal, I am just like him in the end.'"
Utilizing the contemporary theme of tabloid comic tragedy for inspiration, the production has been staged within a maze that runs throughout the theatre, abandoning the classical proscenium for dramatic impact. Richard Sieburth pens the first American adaptation of the work.
The Cenci cast features Anthony Torn, Lauren Blumenfeld, Anna Fitzwater, Mauricio Salgado, Kobi Libii, Alexander Nifong, Joshua Seidner, Alexander Lane, Tanisha Thompson and Todd D’Amour. Joining Jahnke for the production are designers Peter Ksander (set), Miranda Hardy (lighting) and Kristin Worrall (sound).
The Cenci opens Feb. 7 at the Ohio Theatre, located in Manhattan at 66 Wooster Street. Tickets, priced $20, are available by calling (212) 352-3101.
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