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Bloody Poetry, Ritual Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Theatre Studio. Though playwright Howard Brenton conscripts Byron, Shelley, and several other historical figures no longer able to protest the indignity into his Bloody Poetry, the play has always had more to say about English art in 1984 than in 1816. But the Ritual Theatre Company, making its debut with this production, has worked a near-miracle, forging from Brenton’s didactic harangues and self-conscious whining scrupulously individual and exquisitely intimate moments of human interaction.

This feat was accomplished over a five-month period of rehearsal, according to a press release–a period of “exploration and improvisation in an attempt to fully realize the [play’s] world.” The six actors’ complete familiarity with the text manifests itself in a thorough ease with their characters and with one another: every action and utterance is deliberate yet retains the semblance of spontaneity (no easy task in this play’s world, where conversation often consists of the poets’ verse). Robert Kropf’s staging has a cinematic scope–its Delacroix colors, for example, and a thrilling shipboard storm suggested by a single rope and some Berlioz music. Opportunities for invention are found in every corner of the no-frills Athenaeum studio space.

The production isn’t quite perfect–the English accents are sometimes uncertain (with the exception of William Bransby’s Byron, who comes off as the most delightfully amoral bad boy since Richard III). But the lengths to which these artists are willing to go, and the magnitude of their success, mark them as a company to watch.

–Mary Shen Barnidge