All Things Entertaining and Cultural
His stirringly moving recitation of Shakespeare’s poem, “The Rape of Lucrece” is a bona fide piece of theater that entitles Hodge to be numbered with Alec McCowen (“The Gospel According to St. Mark”), Fiona Shaw (portions of “Ulysses”), and Eileen Atkins (Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own) as an adapter and presenter who made a complete and gripping drama from a work that was intended primarily as literature to be read and not acted.
Hodge treats Shakespeare’s poem as if it was a major speech by a character relating a complex episode describing a battle or an astute psychological observation, complete with quotes, vivid imagery, and the piercingly brilliant language so associated with The Bard.
Hodge measures his delivery, carefully making sure all of the exposition is clear and his audience knows the identities and relationships between the treacherous warrior, Tarquin, his alleged friend Collatine, and the friend’s chaste and beautiful wife, Lucrece. The sets the scene beautifully before speaking at a pace dictated solely by Shakespeare’s poetry and the matter each line imparts.
Hodge is a master storyteller, keeping the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective audience spellbound as he relates the intention of Tarquin to despoil Lucrece, the moments of conscience that almost dissuade him, the surprising of Lucrece, her pleas for him to honor her husband and her hospitality and forgo his design, the debauched savagery of the actual rape, Lucrece’s sense of violation followed by her anger and resolve to take what she deems necessary action, the informing of Collatine, and the sacrifice that ends Shakespeare’s tale.
The actor never misses a beat. His feat of memorization is only surpassed by his feat of vivid, evocative expression and his thoughtfully intelligent delivery of Shakespeare’s work.
Hodge ekes out every bit of drama inherent in Shakespeare’s poem. He uses each inch of the bare, spacious Broad Street Ministry floor to create intensity and emotion that is palpable and affecting. Gestures are clever and telling. As Tarquin sits in his chamber contemplating Lucrece’s beauty, and Collatine’s pride in her, he becomes so feverish and overcome with desire, he lusts for his friend’s wife to a point where he begins to masturbate, perhaps unconsciously, in consideration of the foul deed forming in his mind.
Hodge’s hands, held at his waist, move in a nervous, pumping motion, and when he comes to the end of a phrase, he groans as if Tarquin’s seed has been spent. Later, as Tarquin finds Lucrece’s glove, carelessly fallen in the hallway between his chamber and hers, he puts his hand in an out of it in a coital motion. Tarquin’s sexuality is explicit, and Hodge has graphically shown the character’s lascivious, assaultive nature.
In this way is theater made. Tarquin’s intended act takes on a darker cast. You feel the character’s malevolence and cringe at evil his occasionally revealed higher nature cannot assuage.
The anticipatory atmosphere in the Ministry performance space gets denser as Tarquin enters the room in which Lucrece lay asleep.
Shakespeare describes the peacefulness of Lucrece’s slumber. He also tells of her modesty as she hears Tarquin, guesses his intent, and moves her coverlet to her shoulders.
Hodge is fierce in conveying Tarquin’s lust and vengeful nature. The rapist makes no attempt at seduction. Lucrece has already make it clear she is an unwilling lover. Rather than try to woo her with sweet, assuring words or compliments to her virtues, Hodge’s Tarquin spits vitriolically through his teeth his committed resolve to have Lucrece, to be as rough and dismissive with her as he chooses, and to disgrace Collatine, who he regards as overly proud and complacent. “The fault is thine,” he tells his overmatched victim when Lucrece asks why this horrifying assault is happening to her.
The scene is remarkable for its rawness. Hodge needs nothing but his voice to indicate the spiteful, lustful, unloving, unappreciating urge Tarquin is satisfying. You hear the grunts of selfish passion as Tarquin proceeds with his deed.
The rape takes place in the dark where Shakespeare says such an odious act belongs.
Lighting will play a key role in Hodge’s production, which he conceived and directed in addition to acting in it.
More interesting is Hodge’s glistening body and perspiration-stained shirt as Tarquin arises from his foul deed, and lights once more let us see the actor. Almost as if he could time when he would perspire to excess, Hodge emerges as a drained Tarquin, the sweat of his debauchery showing everywhere.
As soon as he is done with Tarquin, who makes an ignoble, guilt-ridden exit, Hodge begins to play the violated Lucrece. Here the actor’s already established virtuosity reveals yet another color. Hodge, virile with a rich, thick beard and trim but muscular build, turns instantly feminine and vulnerable.
Lucrece does not know what to think or where to turn. She dissolves in a heap, her arms hugging her knees, her hand then trying to soothe as Lucrece rubs her attacked loins and recoils from the blood she finds.
Hodge’s Lucrece exudes the pity that betokens tragedy. She is confused by what could have caused this fouling of her person. She speaks of the hurt, of the ignominious horror of Tarquin’s act. She is childlike in noticing and trying to nurse her wounds. She is the victim that blames herself before aiming her ire at the criminal who ravaged her. At one point, Hodge has Lucrece take to her bed in the fetal position.
Then, Shakespeare takes Lucrece through the various stages of recrimination, anger, desire for understanding, and desire for revenge. The violated woman goes through a panoply of emotion, expressing all her of thoughts completely and with admirable, if pitiable, clarity. It isn’t only the story and the characters that spur us to care. Hodge has brought Lucrece to dimensional life, and we feel regret, pain, anger, and call for justice with her.
Lighting is once again Hodge’s ally. Lucrece talks about being awake and considering all that has occurred as she sits shielded from glaring light. But day dawns, and the woman must face all she’s endured in the naked sunlight. (The Broad Street Ministry’s diamond-shaped glass windows play their part here, as the moon shines through upper panes as Lucrece says the sun is rising.)
Hodge’s use of light has been intuitively astute throughout his performance. When Tarquin talks about his lust being like flint struck to create a flame, Hodge has a match in his hand ready to light a candle.
Candlelight and darkness set the mood for several scenes. They make the actual stage lighting, even when raised only to half, seem stark and revealing. Light, whether illuminating Hodge as reciter or serving a specific dramatic purpose as dictated by Shakespeare’s words, adds texture that enhances the theatricality of Hodge’s production.
The actor is smart is so many ways. He is like the artist who considers the shapes and the relation of one aspect of a composition to another before committing a picture to canvas. He has parsed out Shakespeare’s imagery and uses it to great, strategic effect in his overall recitation.
You hear constantly of the rose and white in Lucrece’s complexion, of the dark and light in Tarquin’s soul, of the animals of prey like wolves or scavengers like weasels that stalk the night, and of the splendor Collatine has created on his estate, splendor Tarquin is committed to spoiling. You also hear harbingers of “Macbeth” and Shakespeare’s keen knack for knowing human behavior better than any writer before and since.
Hodge deserves congratulations and acclaim for his sterling performance as well as for grasping the intrinsic drama in “The Rape of Lucrece” and having the foresight and courage to bring it to the stage. His ability to concentrate and remember each line and nuance of Shakespeare’s poem is admirably phenomenal. His work is nothing less than a bravura tour de force to be savored.
“The Rape of Lucrece” runs through Thursday, September 15, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective at the Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad Street, in Philadelphia. Showtimes are 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Tickets are $20 and can be obtained by calling 215-413-1318 or by visiting www.fringearts.com.