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Byron, Shelley and company

Bloody Poetry Play by Howard Brenton. Directed by Lynne Meadow. Howard Brenton's ``Bloody Poetry,'' at the Manhattan Theatre Club, is an exercise in frustration and futility. Even with the biographical data provided in the program, the tangle of infidelities involving three of 19th-century England's most sensational literary celebrities isn't always easy to sort out. The trans-Channel adventurers include Byron; Shelley; his wife, Mary; and Claire Clairmont, Byron's mistress.

The play takes place between the summers of 1816 and 1822 in Switzerland, England, and Italy.

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In literate and frequently ironic fashion, Mr. Brenton itemizes and conjectures upon the private lives of these expatriate romantics and political revolutionaries. The poets and their companions play intellectual and sexual games, quote themselves and others, recite Plato, quarrel and reconcile.

With Lynne Meadow directing, the style of the performance is set by Daniel Gerroll as a curly-haired, deliberately indelicate Byron. The demands of the literary charade are variously met by Thomas Gibson (Shelley), Laila Robins (Mary Shelley), Jayne Atkinson (Claire), Keith Reddin (the whining medico-memorist Polidori attending Byron), and Denise Stephenson (Shelley's first wife, Harriet, and later her ghostly self).

Designers John Lee Beatty (sets) and Dennis Parichy (lighting) have collaborated imaginatively on visual effects, including the storm in which Shelley perished.

The early 19th-century costumes are by Dunya Ramicova.

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