Also see Susan's reviews of Fiddler on the Roof
Tamburlaine, the second part of the Christopher Marlowe repertory now at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, is an epic in the true sense of the word: an enormous cast in vibrantly colored costumes, playing out a drama of conquest and rebellion on a vast stage, and – at the heart – the gloriously deep and resonant voice of Avery Brooks. The ideal audience will understand that all the pageantry and poetry take a long time to unfurl, and some moments in the play's three hours are slow and confusing.
Director Michael Kahn adapted the script from two plays by Marlowe, following the eventful life of Tamburlaine (Brooks) from his beginnings as a shepherd and bandit, through a series of alliances and wars, to his pinnacle as emperor of the known world (Part 1), followed by his decline and death (Part 2). In fact, Kahn's adaptation may be a work in progress, as some characters and events noted in the program do not actually appear onstage.
The worldview presented by Marlowe can be summed up in the single word "intrigue." Tamburlaine lives and triumphs in a time and place where royal brothers betray each other, where army commanders easily switch allegiances to whatever power offers them the best deal, and where a princess taken captive on the way to her wedding comes to love her captor. She is Zenocrate (Mia Tagano), daughter of the Sultan of Egypt (David Emerson Toney), and she eventually represents the gentler, more civilized side of the conqueror.
As befits a man of Tamburlaine's outsized talents and similarly enormous self-confidence, Brooks stands above and apart from the rest of the cast, declaiming Marlowe's poetic lines while laying waste to large parts of the ancient world as "the scourge and wrath of God." Most of the other cast members appear in several small roles, but some of their brief scenes make vivid impressions: Floyd King as the indolent Persian king Mycetes, cheerfully oblivious to all threats; David McCann and Franchelle Stewart Dorn as the Turkish emperor and empress, who at first consider Tamburlaine a threat far beneath their notice; and Robert Jason Jackson as a jailer employed by Tamburlaine, a man with his eye on the main chance as much as anyone else.
Lee Savage's scenic design is simple yet powerful, bordered by tall fortified doors and banners while keeping the considerable expanses of the Sidney Harman Hall stage free for the motion of armies. Mark McCullough's dramatic lighting design and Karl Lundeberg's intense score, incorporating several large gongs, also draw the viewer into the world of the play, but Jennifer Moeller's costume design is the most striking element, with its flowing robes in shimmering metallic thread and brocade.
Shakespeare Theatre Company