What could a seventeenth century British sex farce, lost for nearly 200 years, and receiving only its second professional production in the United States, possibly have to offer modern audiences? If the play is Edward Ravenscroft's The London Cuckolds, and the production is the one that opened last night at the Blue Heron Art Center, the answer is "Quite a bit."
The Protean Theatre Company presented the first American production of The London Cuckolds in 1996, and this production is a remounting of that one, helmed by the same director, Owen Thompson. Thompson's familiarity with the material and his facility with directing this type of play are evident throughout. The plot never gets lost, despite the bizarre nature of most of the events that happen onstage. It would be very tempting to let that happen, but Thompson - assisted by Tony Andrea's simple but effective set design, Hilary Oak's appropriate (and occasionally outrageous) costumes, and David Dean Hastings clever fight direction - keeps everything firmly in check.
The story centers around Ned Ramble (Jeff Gurner, repeating his role from the 1996 production) and his attempts to woo various married women, while the women in turn try to woo men of their own (other than their husbands, of course). To discuss the story in too much depth would be beside the point - this is a Restoration Comedy, after all - as well as spoil much of the fun of the show. Needless to say, John Byrne's adaptation of Ravenscroft's script contains both high and low comedy, as well as a few doses of social, religious, and sexual commentary.
The performances are mostly right in keeping with the pedigree of the script and the direction. Eva Kaminsky, as Eugenia, steals most of her scenes as her dalliances take more and more turns toward the bizarre. She manages to make Eugenia simultaneously religious and bawdy, squeezing nearly every laugh possible out of the conflict between her belief in God, loyalty to her husband, and her extra-marital intrigues. The delicious way she wields the black fan she carries throughout most of her scenes suggests her facility with it could conquer any swordsman.
Michael Daly's performance as Frank Townly, friend of Ramble and erstwhile pursuer of yet another wife, is one of the most straightforward and honest in the play, giving a remarkably truthful grounding to each scene in which he appears. As Jane, Eugenia's long-suffering maid, Lisa Ann Goldsmith gets more than her share of laughs from her impressive library of facial expressions. Gurney wraps his voice around the lines with as much relish as he approaches the outrageous physical comedy he must perform, especially near the end of the first act. Though Jeffrey M. Bender and Lance Windish, as long-lost lover Valentine Loveday and Ramble's servant Roger, respectively, give more uneven performances, they and the rest of the cast apparently have a firm enough grasp of the material and the period that the net result is always what it should be.
The production may be simple, the story fairly negligible, and the genre familiar, but don't risk that the Protean Theatre Company will never perform The London Cuckolds again or that you may never see this show anywhere else in America. The production at the Blue Heron Art center is all you need, and more than you could ask for.
The Protean Theatre Company