KPBS AIRDATE: March 16, 2007
Everybody needs some bawdy. And that’s just what you get in “Restoration Comedy,” the latest work by the award-winning San Francisco playwright Amy Freed. She conflated two popular comic works from late 17th century England, Love’s Last Shift, or Virtue Rewarded, and its sequel, The Relapse, or Virtue in Danger. Both were written in 1696, during the Restoration, which came just after the regime of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, who had banned all theater, condemning it as decadent. When the theaters reopened in 1660, after decades of repression, all hell broke loose. Restoration comedies were notorious for their sexual explicitness… and famous for allowing women to perform onstage for the first time.
Freed is clearly having a field-day. Her play contains all kinds of couplings among wildly exaggerated characters with personality-defining names like the foppish Sir Novelty Fashion, lusty Hillaria or flea-brained Narcissa. The central character, Loveless, is a sex addict who can’t seem to master monogamy. He left his adoring wife for a decade of debauchery abroad. Now he’s back in London, thinking she’s dead. But Amanda is alive and ever-faithful. Worthy, her friend and ardent admirer, offers to teach her to unleash her inner wild-woman, and she poses as a courtesan to win back her husband. That works for awhile, but then things take a different turn in the somewhat less-amusing second act, which gets mired in less-fascinating and funny minor-character subplots. In the foreground, Amanda does win back her man… but only for a short time. He’s soon distracted by another woman; but maybe this time, he’s met his libidinous match. Since there wasn’t any divorce in England at the time, the original version forced Amanda to remain with her wandering mate and endure his infidelities. But in Freed’s version, she’s freed… to have her own life – with a Worthy man who loves her.
It’s all very witty and literate and filled with hilarious anachronisms like hair dryers and baseball gloves. But it’s not all just fun and games. Freed’s ultimate message, maybe with a little political edge, is tolerance of differences in sexuality and sexual preference.
Still, if you want, you can just sit back and have a great time. The ensemble is outstanding, the set is like a Watteau painting, with suspended cherubs and a sky-full of fluffy clouds, the lighting is beautiful, and then there are the clothes… ornate ensembles full of frippery and froufrou. It’s a delicious, sexy romp, that would appeal to anyone but the most crusty curmudgeon.
©2007 Patté Productions Inc.