Red Bull Theater is a talented theater group that presents Elizabethan and Jacobean plays that aren’t Shakespeare. And on a number of occasions I have extolled their acquired ability at doing fresh and engaging on line readings via Zoom…and this presentation of The Wonder of Women written by John Marston and directed by Nathan Winkelstein is no exception.
Now imagine a play where a royal nobleman has a beautiful daughter sought after by two powerful young royals…and the losing suitor takes particular offense and starts a war. And here we have the premise behind The Wonder of Women. But of course it doesn’t end there. The backdrop is the wars between Carthage and Rome…and as Rome invades the land of Carthage to distract Hannibal’s progress in Italy…said rival suitors change and re-change and change again their numerous alliances…with the luckless bride caught in the cross fire. So through out we have an immense amount of bloodshed and characters who suffer from not quite understanding where the royals currently hold allegiance.
In the end, nobody…and I mean nobody wins.
The Red Bull presents this reading via six very engaging actors.
The three principal characters are Syphax, ably played by Derek Smith. Syphax is the losing suitor for the hand of Sophonisba and Mr. Smith plays his role as the vengeful rogue from start to tragic finish. The husband of Sophonisba is played by Ro Boddie! As he plays Massinissa, he effectively runs the gamut of star struck lover to ardent defender of Carthage to turncoat of his own accord…in both his marriage and his political allegiances. And the lovely Sophonisba is played remarkably by Cara Ricketts. Sophonisba loves Massinissa and suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune up to a point…in the end she refuses to be a pawn in the great dramas of men…and our tragedy comes to a bloody end.
And we have three other hard working cast members…who have to play a number of different roles…something that I would think far more daunting in a Zoom reading than on a stage.
First we have Sarin Monae West who handles her multiple roles with grace, charm, and a remarkable directness: Gelasso, a Senator of Carthage; Nuntius, a solder of Cirta; Zanthia, servant of Sophonisba; and Eroctho, a night hag. Probably the best character she’s been handed here is the flirtatious and conniving role of Zanthia. I look forward to seeing here play here again in the future.
Robert Cuccioli has two prominent character roles here. First as Asdrubal, a Senator of Carthage and the unfortunate father of Sophonisba. Thinking he has married off his daughter well he finds himself at the helm in the war against Rome. And then playing in the opposite camp he is also Scipio, the Roman general. This oppositional casting confused me at first.
And Reynaldo Piniella is the final cast member and he is charged with a number of royal figures and a major league rogue. Here he is well cast as first Vangue, a servant of Syphax; Laelius, a lieutenant of Rome; and Gisco, a murderer.
I have been lax on getting this written…The Wonder of Women is streaming until tomorrow evening. It is free but with a pay what you can request. Here is the link!
And extra credit reading? Here is the playbill and cast family tree!