The Lady's Not For Burning
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
May 22, 2011
Parenthesis Theater presents a capable rendition of Christopher Fry’s 1948 classic romantic comedy, The Lady’s Not for Burning. Set in “1400, either more or less or exactly,” in a clamorous medieval town, an accused witch praying to escape the flames and a cynical soldier begging for the noose find salvation in each other. The production and direction are solid but the true star of Fry’s celebrated play is Fry himself. The luminous poetry of his language most clearly brings to mind Shakespeare’s dexterity with metaphor and meaning.
Michael V. Moore’s set is a charming work full of convincing detail and a particularly theatrical window opening to a flowering bower that proves perfect for staging the more tender moments that deepen and inform the general comical and satirical tone of the play. The lighting and sound work by Lucrecia Briceno, Tim Cryan, and Asa Wember are also polished efforts that complement both the stage and the action, which begins at a quick pace with weary soldier Thomas Mendip arriving at the mayor’s house asking to be hanged for the crime of murder. Soon, an innocent young woman also arrives in search of the mayor’s nephew whom she is to marry, and she is quickly followed by a bright young woman named Jennet hoping to find “protection in [the] laughter” of the law as the entire town is up in arms to burn her for turning a man into a dog—the very man Thomas claims to have murdered. The mayor arrests both Thomas and Jennet and subjects them to torture rather than untangle their stories. The script moves between serious topics of justice and morality and sparkling comedy with remarkable fluidity. No comedic moment is far from the knife’s edge of tragedy and no tragic moment is without a touch of light.
Philosophical wit flows at a dazzling pace between the two leads as they face the absurdity of their situations, with Anna Olivia Moore as Jennet delivering a more capable performance than Isaac Woofter (as Mendip), who is often flat. Of the entire cast, only the gentle, musically-inclined chaplain played by Rob Skolits and the wry, practical mayor’s sister played by Jean Tafler really deliver performances that truly deepen the subtlety of the play’s high humor and endearing humanity. The other performers more or less just keep pace with Fry’s words, but the play itself is masterful enough to withstand any indifference in acting. Overall, the play is well-produced and so well-written that it is worth seeing, despite some uneven performances.