Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Lady Was a Gentleman (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Given how much I loved a previous production of Broads Word Ensemble, little wonder The Lady Was a Gentlemen proved so pleasurable.  Barbara Kahn's play proved both a gentle and cutting romantic farce set in the 1850s (the text mentions "President Buchanan") about a grand actress on a tour and the ladies in (and out) of love who surround her life for a few days.

Photo: Alex Moy
Charlotte Cushman (Dawn Alden), making her latest "farewell" tour of the United States, confronts a series of problems--not least the fact her best friend/manager Sally Mercer (Sonja Inge) is a free black woman, and in the South must be on the streets alone nor without her papers.  While mentioned--and felt--this ever-present danger never takes center stage.  Rather, Charlotte's tempestuous love life does, in oh so many ways!

First the Juliet to her Romeo on stage is one Mrs. Deirdre Ryan (Tara Donovon), and some very uncomfortable sexual chemistry rears its head.  Charlotte feels no trepidation at loving a woman, not at all, but a fellow cast member?  No!  Now if only those feelings were one sided...

Next we have Emma Crow (Maikiko James), Charlotte's latest and most intense fan--one who has fallen in love with Charlotte's performance of Romeo and likewise with Charlotte herself.  The fact her father manages the actress's financial affairs allows the two to meet--and (just to make things a tad more complicated, since Charlotte has a long term love interest whom she even calls Wife) for the two of them to click.

Photo: Alex Moy
Add to this Marie Louise Yvette L'Amour (Chantal Thuy), a mail order bride who has just met Jane Partridge (Lacy Altwine), the woman to whom she is betrothed but thinks is a man.  How these too get involved arises from the kinds of coincidence and misunderstanding which dot the best of farces--from A Midsummer Night's Dream to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Honestly, although the writing is witty, the cast very good indeed, the directing (by Kate Motzenbacker) smooth and 'on point,' methinks an undeniable part of the play's appeal remains how it ventures into a world forgotten and denied by history.  Honestly, one sometimes gets the impression lesbians suddenly appeared out of nowhere to star in deliciously trashy novels in the 1950s.  Or that same sex marriage was invented in our lifetimes.  I mentioned this play to a co-worker, describing the little I knew at the time regarding the plot, and this person replied "There were actresses way back then?"

Yeah.  True story.

Photo: Alex Moy
Which is not a criticism!  Rather a comment on something which gives a frisson of the forbidden, a spotlight into a part of life consigned to shadows, plus a celebration of both past and present.  All the more welcome since November last!

Me, I find myself hoping for an extension--because we all could use something to make us smile and laugh and even shake our heads at the juicy silliness while reclaiming some lost history.

(Our history, I should say--because even though I am neither female nor gay this is about humanity, not gender or orientation.  Not really.  After all human foibles and human desires remain...well, human.  Okay, rant over.  For now.)

The Lady Was a Gentleman plays at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays until April 27, 2017 with extra performances on Monday April 17 as well as Thursday April 27, at the Dorie in the Complex Theatre 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood CA 90038.

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