nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
December 3, 2012
The Flea has really outdone itself with Restoration Comedy by Pulitzer Prize-finalist Amy Freed, directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. The show is a three-hour party including pre-show socializing and free cocktails, intermission catering and drinking, and post-show dancing. The numerous, very friendly cast members go about introducing themselves to their audience, showing off some of the 180 or so snazzy costumes created by Loren Shaw and her team of designers. There is singing, fan-fluttering, and racy content to appeal to all persuasions. This is not a traditional comedy of manners, but a modern, very interesting update. (Well, I've found out it's a clever combination of two plays from 1696: Love's Last Shift and The Relapse, which explains why Act II seems like it's out to teach Act I a lesson.) Some themes that remain of interest from the 17th century to the present include: Why should I get married? Why should I stay married to one person? And how can I trick people to get what I want/liberate myself from bondage/express my true gender identity, etc.
Amanda (Allison Buck) is married to Loveless (James Fouhey), a real male slut, or "rake", if you will. He leaves England for France to enjoy a life of pleasure and goes through his fortune. Amanda spreads the news that she is dead, and Loveless returns to England to claim his estate. Amanda's goal, however, is to learn how to shed her modesty and appeal to her husband. She gets lessons in flirtation and domination from her confidante Hillaria (Kelechi Ezie) and from the handsome Worthy (Seth Moore), who starts off courting her daughter Narcissa (Whitney Conkling) but in fact admires Amanda from afar.
Foppington (Stephen Stout) is the over-the-top fashion designer, wearer of wigs that are taller than he is. His poise, facial mole, and accent are completely fake, as is evident when he rebukes his working-class brother, Young Fashion (Erik Olson). He stands for much of the excess of those times (and of our times, too).
In Act II, Foppington, having purchased the title of Lord, plans to marry a rich "Country Wife". A hoe-down ensues, centered around the wistful, powerful, but restrained (by a chastity belt) young country girl Hoyden (Bonnie Milligan). Young Fashion impersonates his brother, introduces himself to Hoyden, and they are married the next day. Since Young Fashion is gay and Hoyden just wants to go to London and be the center of an orgy, they part as friends.
Meanwhile, Loveless has been satisfied with Amanda and her many charms until her flirtatious cousin Berinthia (Rosa Gilmore) comes to the house to visit. Amanda sees Loveless romancing Berinthia, and realizes that she is meant to be with Worthy, although perhaps not to be married to him. The finale is marked by casting away of expensive wedding rings and much dancing.
Let me say again that this show has something for everyone. The costumes are superlative, and radiant with their wigs of many colors and neon highlights. Will Taylor's choreography moves about three dozen cast members all around the small space in entertaining, sexy ways. At some point, you may end up with a half-naked dancer on your lap or brushing past you on a walkway behind your seat. Julia Nourin-Mérat's set is designed for the usual chases and rapid exits, which keeps the action moving at a fast pace. Daniel Chapman's lighting helps separate proper conduct from the improper, more common kind. Even the intermission featured a variety of 1960s R&B performances, which skillfully morphed back into the Baroque. The author, director and ensemble have put a lot of effort into this show. Perhaps it may be too long for some, but then again I don't party as hard as I used to a few centuries ago.