Restoration comedy does not need to be boring or irrelevant. When done well, practically any play from any time period can seem as fresh as when it was newly minted. When done poorly, any play can seem dated, stale, and humorless. The new, all-female production of Aphra Behn's The Lucky Chance by Queen's Company falls squarely into the second category.
It's certainly not for lack of trying, though. The production, which has been directed by Rebecca Patterson, looks great. Set designer Jeremy Woodward has washed the stage in bright colors, all pinks and yellows and oranges, from which costume designer Sarah Iams's creations pop out almost like a 3-D movie. Sarah Iams's lights give everything a sparkling once-over suggesting the same cheery, good-natured romp Behn's script does.
And that script, if not one of Behn's most supple, at least provides the possibility of a good time. Two older men in London, Sir Feeble Fainwould and Sir Cautious Fulbank, have declared war on the city's youth with the intention of robbing them of their young, beautiful women and fortunes. Yet, not counting on the caginess of youth (and, of course, the power of true love), the two men open themselves up for defeat and the requisite cuckolding until, by play's end, nearly everything is again set right.
But even comedy this frivolous (and, today, predictable) deserves to be taken seriously by the director and performers, and that seldom comes across here. Of the show's eleven credited performers, only two, Jena Necrason and DeeAnn Weir as Julia and Gayman, the more serious pair of young lovers, seem committed to finding dramatic truth in their characters. Necrason positively sparkles in both comic and serious scenes, radiating a gentle, encompassing warmth, while Weir gives an effectively masculine (and non-campy) performance as her destitute lover.
Everyone else, though, seems determined to render the comedy unfunny through vocal and physical indicating and posturing, and they mostly succeed. The biggest offenders are Valentina McKenzie and Gisele Richardson playing Fainwould and Fulbank. Younger women are generally going to run into credibility problems playing older men even in the best of circumstances, but McKenzie and Richardson do nothing to drive their needs and desires home; instead, they seem to be commenting on the form and the characters themselves. Ami Shukla and Virginia Baeta as the younger pair of lovers do little better; Shukla is given to fluttering mannerisms and "damsel in distress" vocals while Baeta's character masquerades as someone else by donning glasses and impersonating Woody Allen.
With these hijinks going on, The Lucky Chance never had much of a chance to begin with. It's further hindered by the inclusion of modern pop songs inserted into the action through actual vocals and mock underscoring of pantomimed scenes; why it was necessary to draw out the end of an already overlong (and underpowered) production by having the entire cast lip sync to "I Got You Babe" is anyone's guess.
Patterson, and others determined to reinvent work for modern audiences, would be better off doing the work right first and then putting a new spin on it. The Lucky Chance benefits more from the honesty Necrason and Weir give it than all the other forced characterizations and moments of directorial reinterpretation combined.
The Queen's Company