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Elizabethan drama is ripped from the headlines of its day

Bill Wilkison & David Mosedale in  "Arden of Fevershame"
Bill Wilkison & David Mosedale in "Arden of Fevershame"
Emily Schwank

"Arden of Fevershame"

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To take a play published in 1592, which may or may not have been written by Shakespeare, and make it not only relevant but also captivating for a modern day audience is quite a feat. But Hoosier Bard Productions which achieved critical acclaim with its 2012 production of “The History of Cardenio” did so, impressively, with “Arden of Fevershame.” Fortunately, this writer was able to see the drama which opened April 3 and was presented at Clowes Auditorium at the Central Public Library in downtown Indianapolis, on Saturday, its closing night.

Ben Asaykwee & Thomas Cardwell in "Arden of Fevershame"
Emily Schwank

“Arden of Fevershame,” which was printed anonymously, is based on the real life murder and trial of Thomas Arden, a businessman who was murdered by his wife, Alice, her younger lover Mosby and two thugs called Black Will and Shakebag.

Terri Borous, who skillfully directed “Arden of Fevershame,” is an assistant professor of English drama at IUPUI. She founded Hoosier Bard Productions which is a company made up of university students and members of the Indianapolis arts community; the company was formed to make meaningful connections between the two groups.

Borous, who herself is an accomplished Equity actor, assembled a superb cast. Turning out strong performances were Bill Wilkison (Arden), Jaddy Clucci (Alice), Scott Russell (Mosby), Thomas Cardwell (Shakebag), Ben Asaykwee (Black Will), David Mosedale (Franklin), David Marlowe (Richard Greene), Ben Schuetz (Michael), Bradford Reilly (Bradshaw) and Frankie Bolda (Susan).

Wilkison was particularly effective as the rage-filled, domineering and corrupt Arden who gets his comeuppance when he is not only cuckolded by his wife and her lover but is also consequently murdered by them and other assailants.

Clucci was outstanding as the unscrupulous and deadly Alice who lies to her husband’s face that she loves him while she plots his murder. One of the most riveting moments in the play occurred when Clucci as Alice engaged in a passionate quarrel with her lover Mosby (Scott Russell). After he expresses second thoughts about her and their affair, she angrily responds by tearing out pages from a prayer book.

Asaykwee as Black Will and Thomas Cardwell as Shakebag, the bumbling hit men hired by his wife to kill Arden, were responsible for the play’s comic content through their well-drawn characterizations of two Runyonesque hoodlums straight out an Elizabethan style version of “Guys and Dolls.” Asaykwee’s cool as a cucumber killer Black Will with his semi-Brooklyn accent and constant puffing on a cigarette and Cardwell as Shakebag, his oaf of a sidekick, made for a colorful and amusing duo.

Within the director’s notes in the printed program, Borous stated that “Arden of Fevershame,” with its “suspense, a femme fatale, the first ‘detective’ in English drama, fog, professional killers, etc.,” had all the elements of Film Noir. That it did, but unfortunately the technical limitations of the venue and presumably a tight budget made it impossible for the production to replicate the shadowy look of that Hollywood crime film genre. However, with many of the male characters dressed in ‘40s era style suits and the addition of projected images suggesting locations and weather, one’s imagination combined with the strength of many of the performances was sufficient enough to enjoy a theatrical experience that was accessible, believable and thoroughly entertaining.

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