As a stripped-to-essentials "canned theater" version of a classic Jacobean drama, "The Changeling" likely will prove most useful as a teaching tool in college-level drama courses. First-time feature helmer Jay Stern's small-budget, well-acted indie also could get exposure in various niche fest and nonprofit venues after its premiere run at New York's Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

As a stripped-to-essentials “canned theater” version of a classic Jacobean drama, “The Changeling” likely will prove most useful as a teaching tool in college-level drama courses. First-time feature helmer Jay Stern’s small-budget, well-acted indie also could get exposure in various niche fest and nonprofit venues after its premiere run at New York’s Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Stern, a New York-based theater director, has respectfully compressed the 17th-century play by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, a tragic tale of mad love and bloody deeds. The actors wear contemporary attire, but the language remains mostly unchanged as action unfolds in and around architecture of indeterminate eras. (Some exterior scenes recall summertime “Shakespeare in the Park” productions.) Beautiful Beatrice-Johanna (Wendy Herlich) wants to avoid an arranged marriage — she’s none too crazy about her husband-to-be (Craig Wichman) even before she falls for charming Alsemero (Chris Brady) — so she enlists rough-hewn manservant De Flores (Clyde Baldo) to murder her intended. Nothing good comes of this. Baldo and Herlich are exceptionally effective as they illuminate a perversely fascinating relationship that evolves into something not entirely unlike love. Attractive DV lensing is the pic’s outstanding tech value.

The Changeling

Production

A Now and Then Prods. production. Produced by Jay Stern, Ramona Floyd, M. Sweeney Lawless, Victor Varnado. Directed, written, edited by Jay Stern, based on the play by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.

Crew

Camera (color); Alan McIntyre Smith; music, Zach Abramson; production designer, Nadya Gurevich; art director, Jessica Watts. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, May 14, 2007. Running time: 82 MIN.

With

Wendy Herlich, Clyde Baldo, Chris Brady, James Prendergast, Bruce Meakem, Mary Micari, Mickey Ryan, Craig Wichman, Holiday Segal.
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