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    Dido, Queen of Carthage

    Let the queen be

    "Dido, Queen of Carthage" is every man's nightmare in Target Margin's deliberately deadpan update of the Marlowe classic.


    If power is alluring then Dido, queen of Carthage, is one sexy bitch. She eats men for breakfast, razes villages in the afternoon and beheads the survivors for a late-night snack. When her lover Aeneas insists on leaving her to return to battle, she considers sinking all his ships but decides against it as it would make him frown and

    Company: Target Margin.
    Written by: Christopher Marlowe.
    Directed by: David Herskovits.
    Cast: Nicole Halmos, Abigail Savage, Adrain LaTourelle, Mary Neufeld.

    Related links: Official site
               only Aeneas' frown
    Is that which terrifies poor Dido's heart.

    Naturally when he finally abandons her, she throws all remembrances of her lover, including herself, into the flames.

    Amazingly in its U.S. premiere, Christopher Marlowe's beautiful verse drama is condensed into an hour and half without intermission by Target Margin. Target Margin, one of downtown's most popular theater companies and a bastion of not-for-profit entrepreneurship, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with a minifestival of the plays of Elizabethan poet Christopher Marlowe, who died at 29. Now the focus of much media attention with biopics and bio plays popping up in the mainstream, Marlowe's actual writing is rarely produced. Following "Dido, Queen of Carthage," Target Margin will present "Tamburlaine" in April and a series of readings including Marlowe's most famous, "Faustus" texts A and B.

    Although the play is titled after the queen, the primary character in this production is not beloved Dido but much admired director David Herskovits, with his clever choreographed blocking and self-mocking humor. In a signature style, he relentlessly exposes theatrical conventions with stage managers half dressed in costume stepping on and off stage blankfaced, recorded arias "performed" closed-mouthed by actors, fire made from wood, seams, strings and curtains always visible. The actors, who in other productions proved themselves fiercely talented are directed in this staging to proclaim their lines in a detached fashion with invented histrionic hand gestures, moving about like marionettes without the strings. The presence of Herskovits is felt throughout the evening like a happy puppeteer looming behind his creations.

    David Zinn's multicolored moveable stage, complete with trap door, is reminiscent of a enlarged puppet stage and Dido's son is played by a dirty child's doll animated by various actors supplying a voice. Kaye Voyce's costumes range from the emasculating, as Aeneas and his compatriots emerge from the sea in ragged full-bodied underwear, patent-leather dress shoes and black socks (if only they had garters), to the sublime — Mary Neufeld as Juno is costumed as a flapper in a black and white jeweled dress and matching hat.

    Neufeld is actually the only actor who transcends the histrionic gestures — creating vivid portraits of both Goddess Juno and a nurse. Also Abigail Savage is impish and engaging as Cupid. Adrain LaTourelle as Aeneas performs and looks like a silent-film star complete with painted cheeks and a fallen pompadour. The buxom Nicole Halmos, resplendent in a gold gown and crown (missing only a cape) makes for an imposing Dido, but the enforced restraint on delivery is frustrating, one imagines, for actor and audience alike. The sexiest things in this play about passion are the two beautiful women doubling as stagehands/spokesmodels draped in sequined silver bringing on and off props as needed.

    Two years ago, the Target Margin production of "Measure for Measure" employed a similar deconstructed aesthetic without the understated performances, to create one of the best shows of the year. This year's production takes that idea one step further as the actors are relegated to accessories, little more than talking, moving props. What emerges is an elaborately staged reading of this neglected text but not a performance.

    If you have never seen a Target Margin show, go see it — their "Dido, Queen of Carthage" is a lesson in style. If you seek an understanding of Marlowe's verse poetry, go see it — the anti-emotional delivery of the actors allows for a clear hearing of the text. If you're going to experience the passion of one of the great epic love stories of all time, stay home, tie up your own personal Aeneas and read it aloud in your underwear.

    JANUARY 30, 2001

    Reader comments on Dido, Queen of Carthage:

  • Heard of Virgil?   from Lucy, Nov 9, 2005
  • Looking for Mary Neufeld   from Roger Moon, Jun 4, 2006

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