A Fun (Albeit Forgettable) Night of True Crime in the West Village

by Marcy Priktur

On April 1st, the Lucille Lortel Theatre hosted the final performance of the Red Bull Theatre Company’s modernized adaptation of The Arden of Faversham. This often-overlooked Elizabethan play has received growing consideration from critics (and enhanced intrigue from casual theatergoers) due to its attribution to William Shakespeare. But what is perhaps most compelling about The Arden of Faversham is that it is the first known docudrama based on a real 16th Century murder case.

This 2023 adaptation was directed by Jesse Berger and co-written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Kathryn Walat. The story follows Alice (Cara Ricketts) and her lover/co-conspirator, Mosby (Tony Roach), as they plot to murder Alice’s husband, the Arden (Thomas Jay Ryan). Through the course of the play, Alice and Mosby enlist others, through financial and matrimonial motivations, to abet their efforts. The Widow Greene (Veronica Falcon) is guaranteed the estate that the Arden inherited upon her husband’s death. Michael (Zachary Fine), Arden’s disloyal servant, and Clarke (Joshua David Robinson), the painter, are promised Susan’s (Emma Greer) hand in marriage. And finally, two ruffians (David Ryan Smith and Haynes Thigpen) are contracted murderers.

Just as the Roadrunner eludes Wile E. Coyote, the Arden unwittingly escapes each assassination attempt. Upon learning of each misfire, Alice grows increasingly capricious and hysterical. Alice’s irrationality and lack of sympathetic motivation (besides pure lust) ultimately bred indifference to her fate. Jeffrey Hatcher and Kathryn Walat set out to create a “kind of complicated gutsy female we all like to root for.” But as Alice murders the unsuspecting Arden in the play’s climactic scene, it is apparent that they have widely missed their mark.

Susan, the truly tragic figure in our story, stole the show. Although believing she would have no marriage prospects as a lowly servant on the Faversham estate, she is thrust into a love triangle between Michael and Clarke. However, Michael and Clarke both meet their demise in their efforts to aid Alice and Mosby in their mariticidal scheme. But through her ill-fated love triangle, Susan constantly evoked the most significant emotional responses through her moments of comedic relief and tragic injustice.

On the other end of the character spectrum lies Clarke. The doomed painter provoked memories of Jar-Jar Binks, relying on whimsical speaking patterns and physical comedy for cheap laughs. Despite his death being the inaugural death of the play before intermission, it did not arrive quickly enough.

While the play maintains its Elizabethan vocabulary and syntax, it does so unpretentiously and relatively accessibly. In one scene, a hooded ferryman embarks on a breathless tirade depicting the misty darkness and perils ahead. In response, the Arden takes a beat and replies, “What means thou” to appreciative laughter from the audience.

Following the play’s final scene, the lights were dimmed, and the actors took spots at the front of the stage. Before the lights were raised to well-earned applause, Alice, Susan, and Mosby each detailed their worldly fates. Mosby and Susan were to be hung and Alice burned at the stake. This served as a reminder that the play was based on actual 16th Century events. And it briefly bridged Elizabethan England to modern America through our shared obsession with serial killers. The Elizabethan era yielded The Arden of Faversham. Our culture produced Netflix’s Jeffrey Dahmer anthology series.

The Arden of Faversham provided some hearty laughs, and an unexpected opportunity to link our modern culture’s fascination with true crime podcasts back to 16th Century England. However, the dissatisfying portrayal of Alice and the underwhelming climax ultimately equated to an enjoyable experience that I wouldn’t quite recommend to a friend. 2.5/5 Stars

Programming note: Next, the Lucille Lortel Theatre will host an adaptation of Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle between April 17th and May 13th. This “rough and rowdy” Elizabethan comedy, first performed at the Blackfriars Theatre in 1607, is being produced in tandem by the Red Bull Theatre and Fiasco Theatre companies and should make for an entertaining evening.