“I just didn’t know what to expect,” remarked Jared Sprowls, a Northwestern University theater student who graduated with Friend last year and agreed to take on one of the largest roles, that of the conspiratorial Bosola. “I sort of said to myself: ‘Who’s going to show up to this, other than my parents?’ ”
Friend, in fact, did back into home-style theater as a last resort. In a visit to his alma mater over spring break, he outlined his plan for a summer play with John Burghardt, his high school Shakespeare teacher, with the thought of a run in the school’s black-box theater. Friend blurted out, “We’re doing ‘Duchess of Malfi!’ ”
“And that was kind of it,” he said of the play, a tale of homicide, lust and endless intrigue in a rich and powerful Italian family. “I had recently been watching ‘Game of Thrones’ and it intrigued me, the idea of brutality backed with legitimate emotion.”
Though he discovered using the black-box space would be too costly, Friend forged ahead after his college term ended, sending out casting notices on Facebook, merging adaptations of the text and even adding some new, transitional material, with Burghardt’s help. “I was lying on my living room floor,” he recalled. “I was looking at the script, and at my living room, and seeing that there are these two upstage entrances in it, like the Globe” — the re-creation of Shakespeare’s theater, in London.
Friend’s mother and father, to whom the young man’s friends ascribe superhuman reserves of generosity and patience, agreed to allow their son to take over the house for rehearsals and performances — without fully appreciating the controlled chaos in which they were about to descend.
“We’re used to strange requests,” said Sonenshine, standing in a kitchen that had been turned into an area for sodas and other concessions.
They did haggle over seating capacity. “His opening bid was 50,” Gary Friend said of his son. “There were some tense exchanges where I was arguing the laws of physics,” Jordan later added. For each of the three performances on the weekend of July 13, Jordan settled for an audience cap of 30.