On February 14, 1551, Thomas Arden of Faversham, England — a wealthy land owner whose dubious real-estate dealings garnered him many enemies — was murdered in his own home by two thugs hired for the job by his wife Alicia and her lover.
The true story of Arden’s death — intrigue, betrayal, love, adultery, jealousy, murder, greed, revenge and real estate — inspired an unknown playwright to write a play called “Arden of Faversham” in 1592, and yet another playwright, George Lillo, to pen a version in 1793.
So what’s the story doing in DUMBO in 2007?
In the Spring Theatreworks’s uneven performance of the long-forgotten play, “Arden: The Lamentable Tragedie of a DUMBO Real Estate Mogul,” Thomas Arden (Andy Rabensteine), owns most of the real estate in the developing area under the Manhattan Bridge and isn’t above using his influence in City Hall to snatch a choice piece of property from a rival developer and enemy named Green (Matt Luceno).
In the meantime, Arden spends many a sleepless night on the couch, believing that his beautiful wife Alicia (Karen Forte) is cheating on him with a man named Mosby (Tom Lacey). In fact, she is. The two, along with Green, plot Arden’s death, and finally manage, after a few bungled attempts, to kill him.
Though an adaptation of the previous two versions of Arden, this production is burdened — and also aided — by the obvious comparison of Arden to DUMBO’s real-life real estate mogul, David Walentas. The set, while minimal, manages to evoke a hip, trendy DUMBO loft.
The problem with this play, however, is how uneven the performances are. Rabensteine is easily the best of the cast; while too many actors treat Shakespearean language with a misplaced reverence, he is obviously comfortable with it. His charmingly rumpled Arden was every inch the wronged husband torn apart by rage and love when he cried, “Thou hast broke my heart, Alicia.”
Forte does a creditable job of portraying a woman going mad with confusion — does she love her husband or Mosby? Which one does she want? — but her performance was stilted at times, her movements stiff, her enunciation too sharp. She goes from being heartbreakingly believable — as when she looks upon her sleeping husband, tenderly contemplating whether or not to kill him — to being shrieking and overwrought as she tosses the knife dramatically away.
Meanwhile, Lacey’s insidious Mosby appropriately gave me the creeps with his soft voice as he manipulated Alicia to within an inch of her sanity, while Luceno’s Green didn’t seem angry enough to plan a man’s death. The two thugs, bumbling and comical, are brilliantly played by Daniel Gee Husson and Patrick McColley, but their performances are sometimes wasted.
The play’s adaptation was also a bit confusing at times, thanks in part to an abrupt and unclear ending. Arden is dead, his friend Franklin comes storming in to confront the conspirators, and then the play ends. There is no hint of what will happen to Alicia. We lose an opportunity to explore the “out, out damn spot” mental decline that Mosby goes through when he is left alone after Arden’s murder. The audience didn’t even know that it was time to start clapping until all the actors started bowing.
This production has great potential, especially considering some of the talent on display. But it is worth seeing only if you happen to be around DUMBO — not if you have to come a long way.
“Arden” will run at the Spring Theatreworks DUMBO Performance Loft (25 Jay St., #203, between Plymouth and John streets) Thursday–Saturday through May 12. Tickets are free, but reservations are encouraged. For information, visit www.springtheatrewor....