Brave Aeneas, last son of Troy washes up on the shores of Libya far from safety and wretched under the heavy disdain of Juno, the Trojan-hating Queen of the Gods. Ah but fortunately, Aeneas' Mother, Venus, casts a love spell on the local Queen, the widow Dido so that Aeneus will be properly taken care on his way to the founding of Rome and of course, glory. Ah but will the embraces of the fair Queen sway Aeneas from his heroic destiny or will he leave her in the lurch?
Such is the bare bones of Christopher Marlowe's seldom produced play and the A.R.T. gave this one there all last night. Was it A.R.T.-y? Yes with the usual incomprehensible flourishes including the whimsical choice of a bare stage for most of the show's action. Honestly I don't believe a word of the director's notes, I think the creative powers that be on Brattle Street simply flip a coin to determine if a classic is to be produced on bare stage or in a elaborate corn crib. Lets not forget the A.R.T.'s continuing fascination with transvestite chic, this time with Thomas Derrah's Juno swanning about like the late Harris Glen Milstead aka "Divine".
Ah but the acting was tight in every way, Colin Lane as Aeneas and Diane D'Aquila as Dido had the wit to let the script do its work without undue interference. I also think the selection of two middle aged actors as the leads was a interesting and suggestive idea. The easiest thing in the world would've been to cast some bimbo as Dido or some chorus boy lout as Aeneas and let that carry & distort the show but the A.R.T. made this a play by and for grown-ups-for that I am grateful.
The sex angle gets played up a lot whenever discussion turns to Dido, given the opening sequence wherein Jupiter declaims his love for Ganymede his gay cup-bearer. There is a lot of gay subtext and even over text to Marlowe's plays, but I think "Dido" is more a meditation on the perfidity and superficiality of the Gods who control everyone's fate in the play. Jupiter is an old gay lecher, Venus is a well-meaning mother in Aeneas who cannot bring herself to talk plainly with her son and whose love spell sets motion the play's core tragedy. Juno, alleged Queen of the Gids plots to murder Aeneas' son, truly Marlowe saw the Olympians as a trivial, superficial, inconstant lot.
Alas poor Marlowe, he is all but a forgotten man these days, his plays are rarely produced here in Boston. His best known work "Dr. Faustus" -a superior play in every respect has been revived a mere three times in twelve years, two of those performances were by college undergraduates. Its a shame because Kit had talent and was clearly major influence on Shakespeare. So the A.R.T. weird flourishes and all, has done us a favor, lets us hope they at least remember Marlowe.