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Revitalizing A “Closet Drama”: A Review of English 2041F’s Production of The Cenci

The promotion of The Cenci has been worth it. With a sold out audience, viewers were treated to a show that is often overlooked when it comes to staging. As director Jo Devereux states on the back of the program, many people think The Cenci is “a closet drama— a play meant for reading and not staging.” It is a shame that people hold that belief; it is filled with emotion and action that can only be seen on the stage.

Written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the show surrounds the lives of Beatrice Cenci (Lucy Ruo Su Zhang) and her family as they work to get rid of the abusive Count Francesco Cenci (Cobourn Sands). After holding a dinner party where he admits to sending two of his sons to their death, Beatrice pleads the guests to save her family from the madness that has unfolded. Beatrice, along with her step-mother Lucretia (Nicole Paldino) and Orsino (Stephen McLachlin), a member of the clergy, decide that Count Cenci must be murdered.

The choice to stage the production in the 1950s was brilliant. It was originally written in 1819 and takes place around 1599, so a more recent time period helps highlight pertinent themes. Many pieces of media from the 1950s deal with the “nuclear family” and domestic dispute, an eerily perfect fit with The Cenci. The theme could have been brought our more through iconic 50s music during set changes or hair styling.

I got the pleasure of attending a performance by the “Cobourn Cast,” and the acting was phenomenal. Sands, who plays the titular character, is perfectly terrifying. Each of his words have great diction, allowing audience members to hang onto every word he says. His voice carries throughout the theatre, reverberating off of the pipes, and striking fear into the hearts of all viewers.

Zhang portrays Beatrice with intelligence. You can tell that she understands the content of the play and the gravity that comes with each of her lines. Although she is playing a character who is constantly being hurt, she has a confidence in her voice that suggests that Beatrice is not going to be continually victimized.

As Lucretia, Paldino can play off of all of the other actors. She is always engaged both physically and emotionally: she shakes with fear, her face contorts in grief, she holds her step-son close. Paldino also shocked the audience with the sorrowful energy she brought to the fight choreography (by Brittany Lowey).

The lighting, designed by Ben Connors, compliments the actors nicely. The effects are used to create windows as the audience listens in on the private lives of the Cenci family. Set design and props are equally simplistic and effective.

A lot of great work went into the costumes (Eva Alie) to immerse viewers into the chosen time period. Zhang wore a burgundy turtleneck, plaid belted skirt, and a jacket overtop, appearing trendy and practical. Giacomo (Alexandra Ignat) and Bernardo (Christina Nemez) were transformed into young men through Alie’s costuming.

The Cenci is a show that is truly meant to be on stage. The production brings to light many issues that can be connected to the present day. Stories like The Cenci deserve to be brought to life; audiences need to see real people facing situations that seem unimaginable. Maybe productions like this one will urge viewers to find relevance in seemingly archaic texts.

Please be advised that this production contains themes of rape and incest.

For more information, please visit the TAP website:

Special Thanks to Maggie Gauthier, the promotions manager, for the photos.

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