Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
In Congreve's play, the heiress Millamant and the ladies' man Mirabell want to marry, but Millamant's aunt and guardian Lady Wishfort has control over her finances. In Rebeck's retelling, Mae (Eliza Huberth) finds her $600 million inheritance a hindrance, especially when her supposed fiancé, Henry (Luigi Sottile), shames her by seducing her aunt Rene (Nielsen). Mae wants to start fresh by giving all her money to the poor, perhaps opening an orphanage in Haitiwhich prompts a timely, politically potent rejoinder from Rene.
The supporting cast includes Henry's waspish friend Charles (Brandon Espinoza), flirtatious Katrina (Erica Dorfler), overgrown frat boy Reg (Elan Zafir), Reg's visiting cousin Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley), and a waitress (Ashley Austin Morris) who works several jobs and provides running commentary. Rebeck keeps them all well supplied with biting and self-dramatizing comments such as "One's cruelty is one's power" and saying a person is "so moral, she might as well be a Midwesterner."
Nielsen, a familiar presence on and off Broadway, takes over the stage whenever she appears, a deliciously over-the-top presence mugging, popping her eyes, and pursuing romantic adventures wherever they may (or may not) appear. Her Rene rambles on about how she is a job creator, listing the interior decorators, landscapers, caterers, and other professionals who help maintain her estate. Huberth and Sottile are a well-matched couple and Morris is a delight as she shifts from one underpaid job to another.
Alexander Dodge's scenic design focuses on a wall of lighted display cases, each one showcasing jeweled handbags, elaborate shoes, exquisitely silly hats, and other follies of the rich. Linda Cho has designed hilariously excessive costumes, from Mae's shorts-and-draped-long-skirt ensemble that resembles a window treatment to Reg's orange and green plaid jacket, Charles' sparkly red slippers, and Rene's heavily draped mauve gown.