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"Now I am alone, the fatal hour draws near, when I must remove the mask of Vice that did delight him, and see if Virtue’s countenance shall equally affright him! Oh, my heart! How to stir with equal power his conscience as I did his–other parts!" — Amanda
Those who think that Restoration comedy dried-up centuries ago need to get themselves down to the Flea Theater, where Amy Freed’s Restoration Comedy is now in full swing. Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar (2012 Drama Desk Award nominee for his direction of Sean Graney’s These Seven Sicknesses), this five-hour theatrical event (3 hours plus the party business) loosely adapts Colley Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift and John Vanbrugh’s The Relapse and fuses them into a frothy new work.
First produced by Seattle Repertory Theatre, Restoration Comedy is making its New York premiere at the Flea. It's performed by the Flea's resident company The Bats and the five hours include festive drinks and snacks, tete-a-tetes with the cast, and a post-show dance. It all reminds you that theater, at its best, is a communal experience and may well be the fizziest party you attend this holiday season.
if Freed, in collapsing the two plays, loses some structural elements, she doubly drives home the bawdy wit and humor.
Cast of Restoration comedy
(Photo: Aaron Zebrook
Vanbrugh’s Relapse was written as a sort of sequel to Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift, a play that was a mega-hit but that Vanbrugh scorned as being “inauthentic.” Following in the day’s vogue for appropriating other playwrights’ work, Vanbrughrefashioned Cibber’s characters to suit his own moral introspections and attitude. But you don’t have to be steeped in the details of the Restoration comedy or familiar with the literary vendetta that sparked between Cibber and Vanbrugh at the close of the 17th century. Freed’s work stands on its own mirthfulness.
Once the refreshments are served and a talk-fest with the actors ends, the play proper unfolds. The virtuous Amanda (Allison Buck) tries to re-tempt her prodigal husband Loveless (James Fouhey) to falling in love with her again. A rake Worthy (Seth Moore), in spite of being a friend to Loveless, is hopelessly smitten with Amanda. A high-society fop Sir Novelty/Lord Foppington (Stephen Stout) schemes to marry a rustic country maiden Hoyden (Bonnie Milligan) to inherit her father’s (Matthew Cox) money, as his brother Young Fashion (Erik Olson) hatches a counter-plot to undo his nuptial plans. A femme fatale Berinthia (Rosa Gilmore) adds spice and more to this juicy tale of marital disharmony. By play’s end, all the characters have learned that they fall far short of their personal aspirations, and the couple’s wonder if fidelity and marriage can happily co-exist.
JuliaNoulin-Merat’s set see-saws between magnificent and minimalist. There’s a Baroque-styled archway to represent a London cityscape, secret panel-doors that accommodate sex frolics, and small square platforms strategically placed along the narrow performance space. In one of the funniest moments the character Loveless points out the dilemma of acting on a threadbare set. Breaking the fourth wall, he pleads with audience members to turn away their eyes from his present intrigue: “Don’t look at me like that! . . . Where shall I hide myself? That I shall remain undetected! God these minimalist sets!!.” The re are other hilarious metatheatrical touche.
Loren Shaw’s costumes are the stuff of the Restoration with a diverse array of periwigs and fabulous couture. The clothes are the thing here. In fact, in the opening scene Loveless winkingly confides to the audience: “Tonight we bring you a tale of Restoration Ladies and their Beaux so that — Oh, let’s just be honest, so we could get to wear the CLOTHES!!”
Needless to say, the acting is crucial to making things and the ensemble taps into the nuances of of the comedy with contemporary flair. Stephen Stout’s Foppington is picture-perfect as the King of Fashion. Seth Moore’s Worthy is smooth as silk. James Fouhey’s Loveless is rakish with a capital “R.” But the male actors are not the only ones who shine. Allison Buck’s Amanda is the very soul of sincerity, and is effectively countered by Rosa Gilmore’s Berinthia. A shout out to all in the cast for their incredible resourcefulness as performers, and their genuine warmth as hosts during this very full evening.
If you have never been to the Flea, consider catching Freed’s Restoration Comedy before it shutters. In the hustle-bustle of the holiday season.
Written by Amy Freed
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
Cast: Michael Axelrod (Snap, Dance Company), Jaspal Binning (Model Boy Christopher, Dance Company), Naomi Bland (Dance Company), Brantley Brice (Lory), Emily Brown (Dance Company), Allison Buck (Amanda), Alex Coelho (Footman, Dance Company), Whitney Conkling (Narcissa, Dance Company), Matthew Cox (Tunbelly), Greg Engbrecht (Tailor, Dance Company), Eloise Eoinnet (Ensemble), Kelechi Ezie (Hilaria), James Fouhey (Loveless), Justin Garascia (Model Boy Justin, Dance Company), Rosa Gilmore (Berinthia), Cleo Gray (Fistula), Kerry Ipema (Dance Company), Finn Gilmore (Sly), Chase Kinney (Dance Company), Anthony Martinez (Dance Company), Jennifer McCormick (Servant, Dance Company), Bonnie Milligan (Hoyden), Zac Moon (Parson Bull, Dance Company), Seth Moore (Worthy), Erik Olson (Young Fashion, Dance Company), Ivano Pulito (Old Gardener), Alexander Seife (Ensemble), Stephen Stout (Foppington), Liz Tancredi (Nurse, Dance Company), Jennifer Tsay (Dance Company), Mari Yamamoto (Dance Company).
Sets: Julia Noulin-Merat
Costumes: Loren Shaw
Sound: Jill BC DuBoff & Jeremy S. Bloom
Lighting: Daniel B. Chapman
Choreography: Will Taylor
Dance Captain: Alex Mandell
Fight Director: Michael Wieser
Props Designer: Rowan Doyle
Vocal Coach: Ian Hersey
Music Direction and Original Composition: David Dabbon
Stage Manager: Kara Kaufman
The Flea Theater at 41 White Street. Tickets: $40- $45. Phone (866) 811-4111 or visit www.theflea.org
From 11/25/12; opening 12/10/12; closing 12/31/12.
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday @ 6:30pm; Sunday @ 4:30 pm. No performance on December 24.
Running time: Approximately 5 hours, including refreshment breaks and post-show dance.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 12/6/12
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