AMERICAN THEATRE

Jesse Berger Being Jacobean

WHEN JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON FIRST HEARD that Jesse Berger intended to start a theatre company dedicated to Jacobean drama, the actor recalls, “I thought, C’mon, man: You’re going to last as long as your first production!”

On the contrary, 17 years after Berger founded Red Bull Theater with a credit card and three friends to sign the 501(c)(3) paperwork, the New York City company boasts a formidable track record of 20 full productions and 150-plus staged readings in its Obie-winning Revelation Readings series. Named for a Jacobean playhouse that illegally performed plays in England during the years of Puritan rule, Red Bull has built a well-deserved reputation as a fearless interpreter of seldom-seen classics. From Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside in 2003 to John Webster’s The White Devil in 2019, it has given the Jacobeans a contemporary edge without scanting their 17th-century particulars—indeed, the Jacobeans’ cynical take on a corrupt society plays very well in the 21st century. The company draws on a cadre of committed actors who speak the tricky verse in an assured, unfussy fashion that might be called the Red Bull house style.

Thompson rethought his skepticism after. “I realized this was a company to be reckoned with, and I wanted to work with them,” he says. He joined Red Bull’s fourth production, Middleton’s , in 2008.

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