Marlowe's Tamburlaine at The Shakespeare Theatre

This weekend was one of those glorious weekends where I attend a marathon of plays. Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night: I was to be found at a theatre. This weekend was particularly wonderful because the theatre I was seeing just got better and better.

Friday night I attended a preview performance of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine at the Shakespeare Theatre. It was very nice to see an epic work of theatre on the new stage at the Sidney Harman Hall. The strength of this production lies in its staging and the way it makes use of the space. No part of the stage is left unexplored. Director Michael Kahn and set designer Lee Savage wisely choose a sparse set, filling the stage instead with the actors and the action. What a beautiful moment it is when giant doors open at the back of the stage to reveal Tamburlaine being drawn forward in a chariot! And I think it is likely that in this production we are still only seeing a fraction of what this new theatre can do. This is enough to make anyone await future large productions, such as Henry IV or Henry VI.

The list of characters is quite large. I think the production is at its best when it moves to Turkey, as there is some nice work by David McCann and Franchelle Stewart Dorn as the Emperor and Empress of Turkey.

I had mixed feelings about Avery Brooks as Tamburlaine. I felt he found a lot of emotional range in the character, and amazingly, a sense of humor. But Brooks’ Tamburlaine wasn’t grounded, which I thought robbed the character of a necessary sense of power and authority.

Special props to the Shakespeare Theatre, which is kicking off its new 20/10 discount ticket program. The Shakespeare Theatre was already the theatre in DC with the best policies for young theatre-goers, and this year they have made it even better. Lots of theatres offer discount rush tickets to students or people under a certain age, but the Shakespeare Theatre is the only theatre I know of to offer a discount subscription to young theatre-goers. Last year it was offered to people 25 and under; this year they raised the age to 35. With this program, the Shakespeare Theatre does the amazing thing of refusing to treat us as second-class citizens. Rush tickets are usually located at the back of an auditorium, or in the balcony. At the Shakespeare Theatre, when you purchase a youth subscription, not only are you getting great theatre at a great price, but you are treated exactly like any other subscriber. You get the best seats that are available, you get the same discounts to other Shakespeare Theatre events, and you get the convenience of knowing ahead of time when you are seeing a play. The Shakespeare Theatre should be commended for their attitude which values all its patrons equally. It is also an extremely smart business practice. For one day, I and the rest of the young theatre-goers will turn 36. Do you think after ten years of being a subscriber with great seats, I will be able to refuse to continue my subscription? I think many of us will remain hooked for the entire time we live in DC.


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