West Moon Street
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
May 3, 2007
West Moon Street, based on the Oscar Wilde short story "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime," is a charming, sprightly evening of theatre. It's a confection that's lovely to look at, and easy to enjoy. Like the source story, it's mostly farce with a dash of melodrama and a few fairly incidental murders along the way—a light entertainment that doesn't promise more than it can deliver.
The plot is simple. Young aristocrat and man-about-town Arthur Savile has his palm read at an elegant society salon hosted by Lady Windermere. When told by the palm-reader, Podgers, that his fate is to commit a murder, Arthur becomes convinced that he cannot follow through on his engagement to the lovely Sybil Merton until his "duty"—that is, the murder—is fulfilled. A series of mishaps ensues as Arthur tries to choose a victim and a modus operandi for his crime; each time he thinks he has succeeded, he reinstates his wedding, only to discover that his plans have gone awry. Of course, as in any good farce, one can correctly predict that all will come right in the end, allowing the lovers to be reunited, and everyone—except the few fatalities—to live happily ever after.
Urbinati's adaptation is deft, using the source material to its fullest and fleshing out beautifully several minor characters only alluded to in passing in the original story—Arthur's elderly aunt Clem, the fiancée, a giddy and fashion-obsessed country cousin, and, in my favorite scene in the play, a Russian anarchist from whom Arthur attempts to purchase an explosive device. And Urbinati has a good ear for almost-Wilde spark in his dialogue, though every once in a while a joke tips over into cleverness for its own sake. The script lacks the gleeful intricacy of Wilde's own comedies, though; the tension of multiple layers of pretense, social fiction, outright lie, and misunderstanding being juggled simultaneously. Urbinati's characters are often sincere in a way Wilde's rarely are, which gives Arthur's quest for the perfect murder victim a emotional seriousness that doesn't quite mesh comfortably with its sheer lunacy.
There are also a few additional flourishes—and I don't know if these were original to the script or added in production—that make it seem like the play is sometimes trying to comment on a Wildean farce rather than simply be one, and these I found distracting, since any kind of commentary isn't carried through. The characters introduce themselves at the very beginning, appearing from behind a curtain in a procession; there's a Brechtian-style song for two of the characters, in the middle of one of the scene changes; there's a live pianist just outside the main playing area, who sometimes plays pure background music and sometimes is acknowledged by the other performers.
The production is visually lavish without going over the top—full of strong colors and some truly spectacular costumes (by Naomi Wolff), especially for Lady Windermere, who's adorned with peacock feathers, brocades, and elaborate bustles in eye-catching fabrics. But elements of McCallum's staging, too, sometimes gesture toward a commentary that I didn't quite understand—especially in the scene transitions, where characters sometimes can be seen around the periphery of the playing space peering in at the onstage action.
McCallum doesn't make any missteps with his actors, though—the cast as a whole sparkles and takes advantage of all of Urbinati's witticisms. I was especially charmed by Michael Crane, who gives the aforementioned anarchist a fiery conviction; by Jocelyn Greene, who makes the affected and simpering Jane enjoyable with her glee in all of her absurd pronouncements; and the perfect deadpan of Alex Webb as Savile's helpfully devious valet Charles, instrumental to the overall success of the plot.
West Moon Street is enjoyable, clever, and witty, though it doesn't quite live up to its subtitle, "A Wilde New Comedy." Which, perhaps, is an unfair thing to ask—but playwright Rob Urbinati, director Davis McCallum, and the charming actors are clearly trying to do just that. They come close to succeeding.