Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Oil
Hamill is well known for her ingenious, small-cast adaptations of classic novels; Washington audiences saw her version of Sense and Sensibility at the Folger Theatre in 2016. Director Jessica Stone is working here with seven bountifully talented actors on a picture-book set by Alexander Dodge that plays up the artifice of the conceit: rather than a straightforward dramatization of the novel, Hamill presents a company of Victorian music hall performers telling the story in their own way.
The plot follows two school friends as they navigate their lives in early 19th-century England. Becky Sharp (Rebekah Brockman), a poor but very clever and ambitious young woman, is an obvious target for scorn as she flatters, cajoles, and does what she needs to do to succeed in society, mostly centered on finding men she can manipulate. In contrast, her friend Amelia Sedley (Maribel Martinez) is the daughter of a wealthy stockbroker and would seem to have all the advantagesbut it still isn't enough.
Brockman, delicious as Becky backbites and courts scandal, and Martinez, lovely and earnest, are the only two cast members who play a single role throughout. The rest of the company, four men and one woman, appear in a succession of roles, often with some pantomime-style cross-dressing. Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, a small woman, amuses as George Osborne, the vain young man who doesn't deserve Amelia's love but gets it anyway, and Dan Hiatt, in top hat and white tie as the company's manager, adds a silly gray wig and a long robe to play snooty old Miss Matilda Crawley.
Dodge's scenic design offers a faux proscenium arch, flats mounted on wheeled wooden platforms, even footlights, all well served by lighting designer David Weiner. (In keeping with the two-dimensional theme, cast members occasionally manipulate flat puppets representing additional characters.) Jennifer Moeller's costumes are both grand enough to fit the roles and slightly run-down in keeping with the theatrical setting. Sound designer Jane Shaw also has composed original music performed (and recorded) by four musicians who occasionally lower themselves to provide moments of low humor.
Shakespeare Theatre Company