‘Restoration Comedy’ is a fun period party
I just made a new friend named Chase. And another named Naomi. And yet another named Michael. They were all hosts of the raucous, rollicking party that is Restoration Comedy, now taking place nightly at the Flea Theater.
All of my aforementioned new BFFs are part of the Bats, the resident group of young, and in this case, quite nubile, young actors, working at the Flea. They all flaunt their considerable talents, both internal and external, on display in director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s mounting of Amy Freed’s riff on two existing restoration comedies, Love’s Last Shift by Colley Cibber and The Relapse, by John Vanbrugh. Iskandar replicates the template he set with last year’s Flea production, These Seven Sicknesses, in which a central, classic kind of story was merely the conduit for a party-like feel that extends the whole evening. Though the two “acts” of Restoration probably last less than two full hours, the overall show ran for about three-and-a-half hours, including actors schmoozing with audience members (impressively remembering everyone’s names) as they serve them drinks, appetizers from neighboring Macao, and a full-on post-show dance party. One leaves the show having not just been entertained, but feeling as though they had just made a bunch of new friends.
For instance, have you met my new pal Allison Buck? This ethereal beauty, a Bat veteran who has starred in Sicknesses as well as other Flea shows like Looking at Christmas, plays the virtuous Amanda, mourning the believed death of her lecherous husband, Loveless (James Fouhey). When Ned Worthy (a winning Seth Moore) lets Amanda in on the ruse, she decides to use Ned as a teacher in the ways of seduction, so she can lure Loveless back to her. Relapse, meanwhile, finds Loveless readjusting to the very limited life of a supposedly happy marriage. That chapter will also feature two of my other new besties, Stephen Stout and Bonnie Milligan, in two show-stopping performances, he as the social-climbing Lord Foppington (he leads an exhilarating second act prelude set to the Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki”) and she as a supposedly homely provincial heiress with a chastity belt.
Restoration strays from the more typically dramatic and challenging works often portrayed by the Bats from such playwrights as Thomas Bradshaw (Dawn) or A.R. Gurney (The Guys, Office Hours). Clearly this is lowbrow comedy rather than high art. Iskandar’s approach is essentially what you might find in a Chelsea club on Dangerous Liaisons night. (Several numbers, choreographed to the hilt by Will Taylor and quite seamlessly performed in sync by the entire Restoration ensemble, even evoke Madonna’s VMA “Vogue” performance.) Loren Shaw has adorned the cast in both gorgeous Elizabethan dress as well as glittery go-go gear, a massive undertaking given the number of quick changes and enormity of the cast. Think of it as haute couture rave gear. And while the audience interaction doesn’t do much to strengthen Freed’s themes, questioning the validity of the institution of marriage, it serves the director’s greater mission, which is to create a party, although this kind of in-your-face theatricality is definitely not for the faint of heart or those with any kind of social anxiety disorder. The story itself may be slim, but the event rocks the house.
Flea Theater, 41 White St. Thru Dec. 31. www.theflea.org.
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