48 / CHRONICLESnzero in on a classic play, not itselfnAmerican. The play I have in mind isnone that was recently produced not innthe bazaars of New York but in one ofnour more influential “regional” companies,nthe entire production directednand designed by established hands atndrumbeating for the New. When Inlearned that Robert Brustein was openingna run at the American RepertorynTheatre in Cambridge of Middletonnand Rowley’s 1622 tragedy ThenChangeling, directed by himself andndesigned by Michael Yeargan, and thatn(Amtrak volente) I would be able to getnto it, I made plans. After all, I knownthe play well: I directed it in 1973 andnpublished a long piece of scholarlyncriticism on it two years later. What isnmore, my attraction to mounting thenplay in the first place was in partnstimulated by the wretchedness of ElianKazan’s stab at it in 1964, at thenthen-nascent Lincoln Center Rep, andnthus by my overall concurrence withnBrustein’s ruthless review in The NewnRepublic. So The Changeling is an oldnfriend.nI have never met Brustein, but Inhave loosely followed (and sometimesncheered on) his self-advertised careernever since I joined in the studentnagitation that ended up bringing himnas dean to the Yale School of Drama inn1966, the year I took my degree andnleft. In none of my subsequent visits tonhis theaters at Yale or Harvard, however,nhave I managed to see a productionndirected by him. The recent productionnof The Changeling gave me anchance to view his efforts through antelescopic lens.nThe first thing A.R.T.’s Changelingndid was to fog it over with plain mediocrity.nThe acting (except for competentnperformances in a couple of secondarynroles) did not even merit thatnmost tepid of put-downs, “adequate.”nAnd the inadequacy was manifestlynnot the whole—or even chief—faultnof the earnest, hardworking actors.nRather, it seeped outward from a wetiynlimp handling by Brustein himself ofncharacter development, language, andnblocking. I knew something was wrongnat the very first group-entrance, when Inheard the unmistakable guffaws andnhoots of Michael Benthall’s “whoopingngentiemen” of the 1950’s-style OldnVic: that noisy, vacuous jollity bynwhich ill-defined characters are got onnand off stage by directors at a loss tonsuggest why they are coming andngoing. Something was awry indeed.nFor in the script we have a remarkablenplay in which “change”—moral,npsychological, and tonal — is a keynmotif Brustein himself makes muchnof this in his program note. At thenplay’s center is a sort of spoiled ingenue,nBeatrice Joanna, in whose mouthnbutter would keep as unctuously icy asnher self-centered concern for her ownn”honor,” and as hard as the insults shenpipes at her father’s ugly sycophant,nDe Flores. Dismissing the man betrothednto her because she has fallen innlove with a handsome newcomer,nBeatrice elevates her romantic whimnto an imperative. She cajoles the convenientnDe Flores (when she at lastnstops abusing him for his unpleasantnlooks) into murdering the inconvenientnfiance. De Flores, writhing in lustnand resentment, does so. He thenndemands her maidenhead as payment.nHorrified, the Beauty gives in to thenBeast’s blackmail, so as to preserve hernworshiped reputation as well as hernnew betrothal.nMiddleton’s brilliant twist is to havenBeatrice grow really to love De Flores:nAfter the two have contrived to hoodwinknthe virginity-obsessed new husbandnand murder an untrustworthynlady-in-waiting, Beatrice tells De Flores,n”I’m forced to love thee now,n’Cause thou provid’st so carefully fornmy honor.” Tainted love does notnredeem the Beast but depraves thenflawed Beauty. Once discovered, thenpair die in a messy murder-suicidenthat merely disgusts Beatrice’snhonor-bound father and her betrayednhusband.nBut in the A.R.T. production wenhave a Beatrice whose downward trajectorynis nearly all a matter of “emblematic”ncostume changes (white, tonwhite-with-a-red-panel-between-thelegs,nto black and decollete). From hernfirst entrance she is informal, brassy, atntimes even vulgar, played by a youngnactress who—with sufiBcient improvementnin stage skill—could develop thenstyle of Ann Bancroft. Brustein apparentlyndid nothing to help her communicatenthe wellborn, pampered, proper,nand irresponsibly willful Beatricenthat the play demands at its outset. Farnworse is the A.R.T. treatment of DenFlores, by an accomplished farce-nnnactor. He reveals no “character” atnall—no humiliation under Beatrice’sncontempt, no self-loathing to wrestienwith his vindictive lustfulness, nothingnbut a suite of Minsky one-liners (readnas if by a David Burns trying to playnJim in TaXi) and sleek, Nosferatu-likenposturings. (The Nosferatu imagenmust have been recognized in rehearsal.nAt one point, Beatrice tries to wardnhim off with the cross hung round hernneck. He tears it from her and stampsnon it. But in the next scene, she has itnback on, undamaged, so what is thenpoint?)nIn my program I jotted a note to theneffect that Brustein seems to havenblocked the play solely to get a halfdozenngood still photographs for lobbyndisplay. Then I walked out to thenlobby during intermission to find thatnthe tableau that had prompted mynnote was in fact the poster photo.nThere were a good half-dozen strikingntableaux in the show, as well as somenclassy entrances by De Flores. In betweennthem, desultory wandering andngestural cliche. There was no morensense of the meaningful choreographynoften implicit in Middleton andnRowley’s scene construction than ofnthe meanings often conveyed bynthe dialogue’s metrical rhythms.nBrustein’s long-held conviction thatnAmerican actors need an “American”nstyle with English classical drama evidentiynextends to distrusting the Englishndramatists to know how iambicnverse can delimit, and hence direct,nthe actor’s palette of possiblenemphases.nI do not mean to quibble. I do meannto try to beat my way through the fognof the production’s ineptitude to clarifynwhat I think is behind its offhandnamateurishness. For, even havingnmultiplied instances great and small ofnBrustein’s indifference to communicatingncharacter, nuance of meaning,nand moral “change,” we must asknwhat did command his interest? 1nthink the answer is locatable in the set,nin one of the pantomimic sequences,nand in the presence onstage of a pair ofnyoung female supernumeraries. Thenformer was a fine job of work, up to anpoint; the latter two revealed a derangementnindicative of everythingnthat critics seem to mean by “postmodern.”nYeargan’s set was inspired by ann