Zastrozzi captivates Windsor Theatre audiences

George Walker’s gothic classic discusses revenge and artistry.

Windsor Theatre housed its third major production of the semester last weekend, with Zastrozzi, the Master of Discipline taking the stage. Directed by Glen Nichols, Mount Allison’s director of dramatic arts, the play is an evocative mediation on ideas of revenge, morality, and artistic accountability.

Loosely based on Percy Shelley’s 1810 gothic novel Zastrozzi: A Romance, the play was adapted in 1977 by Canadian playwright George F. Walker. It depicts Zastrozzi, the self-proclaimed master criminal in all of Europe, and the culmination of a three-year plot to locate and take revenge upon Verezzi, the Italian artist and religious “visionary” who killed Zastrozzi’s mother. Assisted by the cruel thug Bernardo and the seductive Matilda, Zastrozzi devises a plan to exact her vengeance, all the while being beset by intricate love triangles and Verezzi’s faithful caretaker, Victor.

In both the original script of the play and Shelley’s book, Zastrozzi is male; however, Nichols has reconfigured the story so that the character is a woman, which subtly encourages an analysis of gender politics of the production. Cat McCluskey starred in this lead role, and armed with a rapier, and a cold, malicious glare, McCluskey took the audience on a provocative journey into the ambitious and atheistic mind of Zastrozzi. From her commanding presence to her vicious yet calm composure, McCluskey eloquently embodied Zastrozzi’s complex and dangerous persona, relentless hatred of her rival, and the character’s persistent belief that “all artists must be answerable to something.”

The artist in question, played by Sean Baker, is a character whose professions of divine influence contrast sharply with the degenerative nihilism of his hunter. Baker excellently captured the whimsical and occasionally delusional mind of Verezzi, and combined a comedic narcissism with an overdramatic gaiety that ultimately helped reveal Zastrozzi’s irrational diligence in pursuing such a seemingly harmless character. Towards the end of the play, it becomes evident that Zastrozzi merely enjoys her role as a regulator and the preoccupying purpose that her hunt provides. She eventually lets her nemesis escape after a clash of blades, and as McCluskey sat in Zastrozzi’s corpse-ridden prison and uttered the character’s final lines: “I like it here,” one could feel a collective chill run down the audience’s spine.

One notable feature of the production was the use of fight choreography and swordplay. Directed by Paul Del Motte and Mike Griffin of the drama department, this element added a degree of authenticity and excitement to the performance. Duellers throughout the production were also required to navigate an intricate maze of steps that made up the innovative stage design, which was modelled after Zastrozzi’s abandoned prison in the final scene and subtly represented the twisted and tortured mind of the play’s vengeful protagonist. From the very composition of the stage to the vibrant costumes and expertly delivered dialogue, Zastrozzi was easily one of Windsor Theatre’s most riveting and engaging performances in recent memory.

Windsor Theatre’s next major event is the weekend of Nov. 29 and 30 in which it will host an evening of one act plays, including “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet, and two short plays by Anton Chekhov.

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