Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Clair Clairemont spent the summer of 1816 beside a Swiss lake, pretending they were set free from the sexual and social mores of the time, dreaming of a day when political and cultural institutions would be just as free.
Naturally, their dreams were dashed. In "Bloody Poetry," Howard Brenton (best known in Los Angeles for "The Genius," seen at the Mark Taper Forum) demonstrates that these romantics were their own worst enemies.
It's an engaging clutch of characters, and Brenton wrote some telling dialogue. He also left out a few scenes that might clarify his narrative as well as create dramatic fireworks. Most conspicuously, the origin and then the severance of the affair between Byron and Clairemont are not adequately dramatized or even explained.
Still, the actors in Christian Barcellos' staging for the Living Edge Theatre Company at USC make much of the charismatic creatures they portray. As Byron, Mark Tymchyshyn is a masterful rascal--no Childe Byron here. Guy Massey's Shelley, not as vocally precise, finally fascinates for what he withholds as much as for what he expresses.