The Love of the Nightingale
British playwright Wertenbaker’s 1989 work retells the Greek myth of Philomele, Procne and Tereus. Tereus, king of Thrace, marries Procne, daughter of the king of Athens. At the request of Procne, Tereus agrees to fetch her sister Philomele for a visit; on the return voyage, he finds himself lusting after Philomele and rapes her. When she threatens to expose him, Tereus cuts out her tongue and hides her away, telling Procne that Philomele is dead. But Philomele still finds a voice, signaling the truth to Procne at Bacchanalia; the sisters exact a gruesome revenge on Tereus before they’re all turned into birds. Ah, mythology.
Palmer’s stylish production traps us in the midst of the action, with scenic designer William Anderson creating a smartly enclosed environment in the center of Red Tape’s church-gymnasium space. The claustrophobic feeling adds to Wertenbaker’s emphasis on silence in the face of oppression, whether it’s enforced by the oppressors or self-imposed. The playwright can get just a bit too pedantic, particularly in the commentary by her Serling-esque chorus figure (Robert Oakes), and Palmer and designers Ricky Lurie and Miles Polaski toe the line of cliché in their rave-like Bacchanalia staging. But as the lead trio, Meghan Reardon, Kate Romond and Vic May bring remarkable honesty and nuance to their archetypal characters.