For the average joe, being the “scourge of God and terror of the world” would be a tall order. Not so for Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. When you’re an upstart shepherd turned megalomaniacal conquistador, massacre and slaughter are all in a day’s work.
It’s unsurprising (though a bit clichéd) to find the stage of the Polonsky Shakespeare Center hung with shower curtains for director Michael Boyd’s production of this Elizabethan bloodbath. That gimmick sounds the only false note, however, in Theatre for a New Audience’s fast, furious, even funny revisiting of Tamburlaine, Parts I and II. John Douglas Thompson keeps his Tamburlaine — a stomping, growling brute with a squinting tic (is he blinded by sweat or his outsize ambition?) — rooted in the soil he loves to drench with his enemies’ entrails.
The rest of the ensemble runs with Thompson’s energy, turning in vivid performances as Tamburlaine’s few allies and innumerable victims. Chukwudi Iwuji and Patrice Johnson Chevannes glow with regal dignity as the Turkish emperor Bajazeth and his wife Zabina, while Paul Lazar is wonderful as a cross-eyed and crazy Mycetes. Savvy double casting brings the dead hauntingly back to life as the troupe sweeps repeatedly across the empty stage: yet another kingdom fallen.
Dispensing with battles and gore (mostly), this is as streamlined and snappy an approach to Marlowe’s excesses as you could hope for. Just don’t get too close: Tamburlaine lives up to his billing, by the bucketful.