Three actors stand onstage in a triangular formation. Two of them are bloodied and fighting with swords. The third, dressed in a cardinal's red robes, stands watching in the background.
The Duchess of Malfi at Babes With Blades Credit: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Though it’s based loosely on a real story, John Webster’s Jacobean revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi plays like a cross between torture porn and Shakespeare, what with the piling up of butchered bodies, hints of incestuous longing, and even a touch of lycanthropy thrown in for good measure.

The Duchess of Malfi
Through 10/21: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM (livestreaming 10/12-10/15); Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard,, $35 ($28 seniors/students; streaming $30); masks required

Babes With Blades’s current production, directed by Hayley Rice, doesn’t find its way cleanly through all the tricky shifts in tone (for a tragedy, you may find yourself giggling at some of the over-the-top twists). The fate of the title character (played by Carrie Hardin)—an Italian widow who flouts the dictates of her brothers (a duke and cardinal) and remarries below her station—feels ancillary to that of a more compelling figure. 

That would be Bosola, a recently paroled steward and “intelligencer” (fancy word for “spy”) whose machinations on behalf of the dastardly duo of brothers set off the bloody chain of events. As played by Maureen Yasko, Bosola is a complex and slippery person whose decision to follow the least trustworthy people in the room, only to find out that they have no intention of following through on their pledges of fortune and security, may remind you a bit of some recently indicted coconspirators in Georgia. Yasko’s performance is by far the most solid in the show, whether she’s fulminating against the elites who abused Bosola’s loyalty (or greed) or handling sword and dagger in the final thrilling fight (designed by Maya Vinice Prentiss). When people show you who they are, believe them. Preferably before you kill others, or they kill you.