It is no overstatement to say that Friend, his cast of 12, his co-director, Susannah Clark, and technical team led by Georgetown Day classmate Henry Brown, pulled off something remarkable. The audience was initially led to the house’s front walk, and afterward was guided seamlessly to each of the rooms in which the play unfolded. From the curbside arrival (in his father’s Acura) of Jordan’s Duke Ferdinand to the garroting in a basement dungeon of Ebony Chuukwu’s Duchess, to a final pileup of stabbing victims in the living room, this modern-day “Malfi” used its environment with such gleeful conviction that the effect was downright tickling.
The inventiveness extended to a viewing of the purported hanging bodies of the Duchess’s husband (Adam Faruqi) and daughter (Tess Thornton) on a flat-screen TV, and the dispensing of train tickets to spectators, for the movement to the dining room for the scenes in the Vatican with Burghardt’s evil Cardinal. Meanwhile, Brown and the technical team had wired a room-to-room sound system, allowing the original score by another alumnus, Erik Fredriksen, to follow the roving action.
Like many of her castmates, Chuukwu, entering her sophomore year as a theater major at Grinnell College in Iowa, had never even heard of “The Duchess of Malfi” before Friend sent her the Facebook message. After the weeks of rehearsal, she began to feel comfortable with the archaic language, and even got to pick out the Duchess’s wedding dress. “I bought it at Banana Republic,” she explained with a laugh. “They were having a sale.”
Neighbors, friends, parents and schoolmates who were asked to donate whatever they could for admission, filled the folding chairs. (The show made back its $500 or so in expenses).
“Our living room and their living room is about the same size,” a woman seated in the front row was heard to whisper.
Ultimately, the reunion with old acting comrades in the rooms he grew up in filled Friend up so warmly he began sleeping in the living room — the show’s primary performance space. “I think the house took a back seat to the people,” he said. “It became this living community. I wanted to learn and I wanted to have a good time, and make something new and exciting.”
The house on Langdrum Lane is back to its full-time job now, and Friend is onto his next bit of theater — a summer-stock show in Baltimore. The adventure in private-home theater taught him and his buddies a lesson, though, one articulated best by Sprowls, in a conversation about the future with one of his co-stars. “Ebony,” he told her, “you have to make your own opportunities.”