“A Yorkshire Tragedy,” performed by the UMKC Undergraduate Theatre, is a brutal and strange rollercoaster ride. It is bizarre, often in a good way, but other times, not quite so much.
The play follows a man, played by Matt Melson, who has run his fortune into the ground with his philandering, debauched tastes. He has a violent temper and routinely beats his wife, played by Grace Knobbe. She is a sweet, loyal woman who stands by her husband despite his violence and mood swings.
They have three children, two of whom live with them, but the other is away and nursing. The man wants his wife to sell the land that is her dowry in order to continue gambling and wasting his money.
Nothing she can do satisfies him. He is more afraid of leaving his children to be beggars than anything else, which leads him to unspeakable acts. The abuse quickly escalates, ending in death.
The story is based on the real-life tale of Walter Calverley who murdered his children and harmed his wife on April 23, 1605. It is shocking, but seems disconnected to modern day, until a final projection hits close to home. It is aided by incredibly well-executed fight scenes. The spousal abuse’s physicality is vicious and extremely realistic.
The lighting design was inventive and perfectly fit the play’s dramatic, unnatural state. It interestingly mixes theatrical and realistic lighting. A notable moment was a beautifully lit search scene with flashlights providing most of the light on the stage.
The play, written by Thomas Middleton, one of Shakespeare contemporaries, was originally set in Elizabethan England. It is based on a real-life scenario from that time. Director Scott Stackhouse chose to transport the setting to rural modern day Missouri. The setting was usually seamless, but occasionally felt mismatched.
The play is somewhat disjointed, but it wasn’t the show’s production as much as the play itself. Many of the show’s flaws were actually flaws of the mediocre playwright.
Melson as the lead was a charismatic brute, managing to incorporate his violent character with his eloquent speeches. His delivery was charged and beautiful. He committed to the unpleasant character, managing to keep the audience interested in him, and even drew some sympathy.
Knobbe, the wife, was incredibly earnest and believable. She convincingly made lamentable decisions that the audience understood through her impassioned portrayal.
Bradley Turner and Marianne McKenzie played strong supporting roles with wonderful vocal variance that brought the language to life. They left a deep impression despite their short time on stage.
The costuming was attractive, but didn’t always fit the show’s modern-day, rural setting.
The set was strong, utilizing interesting angles and levels. There was only one set, emulating indoor and outdoor scenes and even different cities. Projections were inserted throughout the show on a screen on the set’s second level. The projections provided great effects at the end, but the text projections used during the show proved unnecessary and distracting.
“A Yorkshire Tragedy” is an unusual play worth experiencing. It gives a new look at this relatively unknown Elizabethan play.
The show zoomed by. It lasted an hour without including intermission, and while very short, felt remarkably complete.