Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

An Enthralling Production of Thomas Kyd's
The Spanish Tragedy

Erik Johnson
One wonders why this Elizabethan tragedy written between 1582 and 1592 is rarely produced. At least to my knowledge, no other Bay Area theatre company has attempted to present this play that influenced William Shakespeare. From what I have read, it has only been produced by college and university drama societies. Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy was thought to have influenced two of Shakespeare's well-known works, Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, both stories aroused by revenge and murder. There are certainly elements in this play that show up later in the Bard's work. Many rudiments of the tragedy, such as the play within a play used to trap a murderer and a ghost intent on vengeance, appear in Hamlet.

The Spanish Tragedy is an enormous drama with many speaking parts. Marin Shakespeare's director Lesley Currier has cut and reshaped the text expansively, combining characters and using some of the many rewrites attributed to Ben Johnson. It is a massive undertaking.

The plot is very complex and it would not hurt to get to Forest Meadows Amphitheatre fifteen minutes or so early in order to read the synopsis. The basic plot is about an attempted alliance between Spain and Portugal. It is framed by an angry ghost howling to the goddess Revenge. This is the Spanish nobleman Don Andrea, who was slain in battle by the Portuguese Prince Balthazar. The gallant thing to do would have been to capture him and hold him for ransom; instead, it is Balthazar who has been captured by the Spanish.

Bellimperia is the only one who remembers Don Andrea since she was his secret love. Now that the nobleman is dead, she falls in love with his friend Horatio, who did most of the actual work of capturing Balthazar along with the sly and villainous Lorenzo, Castille's son. Lorenzo, for some various political reasons, has Horatio murdered right in front of her. So now Bellimperia has two revenges. Horatio's father Hieronimo is pretty upset about this and he also wants vengeance. He devises a play-within-a-play before the kings of Spain and Portugal that out shames the inner play of Hamlet.

Director Lesley Currier has assembled an outstanding cast of over thirty actors magnificently playing their roles. Julian Lopez Morillas is superb as the vengeance seeking Judge Hieronimo. It's a gripping performance. Scott Coopwood gives a stern, intense performance as the Duke of Castille. Erik Johnson gives a splendid portrayal of Horatio while the smirky Dashiell Hillman makes Lorenzo an enjoyably translucent villain.

Jeffery Lloyd Heatherly gives a skillful performance as the King of Spain. Elena Wright provides an intense Bellimperia, while late replacement Liam Hughes has a distinct Shakespearian voice as Balthazar but needs to loosen up. Lucas Hatton sharply focuses the ghost of Don Andrea. Jack Powell as the Viceroy of Portugal, Jessica Powell as Hieronimo's wife, and neophyte performer seventh-grader Julia Shulman as Revenge all give impressive performances. There is some comedy relief on the part of Adam Roy as one of the petitioners to Hieronimo. He has devised a silly walk and wonderfully plays a ridiculous fool.

Costumes by Abra Berman are glorious, true to Elizabethan theatre. Set design of a Spanish castle by Shannon Walsh is first rate. Bravo to Elena Wright for exciting fight scenes.

The Spanish Tragedy plays in repertory with A Comedy of Errors through August 11th at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, 890 Belle Ave, Dominican University of California, San Rafael. For tickets call 415-499-4488 or visit

Photo: Eric Chazankin

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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