A Decadent 18th Century Treat: “The Way of the World”

Photo credit: The Boston Conservatory

Written by William Congreve
Directed by Christopher Webb
December 4 – 7, 2012

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Boston) For a tragically short engagement, The Boston Conservatory has decided to showcase the adultery comedy of manners, The Way of the World.  The theatrical effort revives the Restoration-era play by William Congreve (1670 – 1729) for the contemporary stage.  With everyone in powdered wigs and dimpled with fake moles, Mirabell (Marchant Davis) plots to marry the clever Mrs. Millamant (Emily Shankman) by outwitting her wealthy, mean-spirited aunt, Lady Wishfort (the delightful Jacqueline Harding, playing her role with zeal).

No character is particularly heroic much less innocent in Congreve’s England.  The cast of fops, gossips, and despicably wealthy nobles sleep, steal, and cheat on and with each other at an impressively decadent pace.  With love triangles mutating into love polygons, it’s an impressive sight.  Even the servants of the wealthy, like loyal Waitwell (Daniel Plimpton), Mincing (Gianna Alessi), and the secretly conniving Foible (Beka Burnham) are all too pleased to watch their employers deceive and be deceived by one another.  Everyone seems to have a good time at one point or another in a delightfully convoluted mess of a plot.

The Olympic levels of greed and lust on display are further complicated by the language of the work.  I admit, it took a an act or so for a simpleton like myself to understand the syntax and nuance of the language or parse the ever-evolving plot.  Still, I enjoyed myself immensely.  It’s enormous fun to watch Mirabell banter with his friends and associates, like Witwoud (Gavin Parmley), Sir Wilful Witwoud (Dan Rosales), and vain Petulant (Spencer Glass).

Also enjoyable is the stage design and the bizarre but historically accurate costumes and make-up.  Every piece of the play works to ground the viewer in a past era of gaudy excess.

The Way of the World is an evening’s commitment, clocking in at three hours with several musical interludes to spare.  It’s also an energetic bedroom comedy romp, one that has not been dimmed through the lens of the modern era.

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