note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Alexander Wright
A Review by Beverly Creasey
The adventuresome actresses of QE2 are at it again this spring with some "May Mischief". The two one-acts which make up the evening fit snugly into the BCA's tiny Leland Center. The first, called "Genteel" (by Evelyn Hood), is a breezy farce which will have you pining for Noel Coward. (Jennifer Jones and Rosemary Ryding simply must play the duelling wives in "Blythe Spirit" sometime soon!) Hood's frothy comedy will remind you of "Arsenic & Old Lace" too, although Jones and Ryding are much too young to be playing old ladies. The plot involves two maiden sisters, one of whom worships the genteel lifestyle, while the other dabbles for the first time in black magic.
Both Jones and Ryding know their way around farce and their exquisite timing keeps the lightweight material afloat. Director Marie Jackson keeps the action so fast and furious you don't have time to guess the surprise ending. Ryding, as the ditsier of the two, affects a delicious Billie Burke quaver to her voice....and an icy turn of Jones' head as she witnesses their boarder slurping tea from his (gasp) saucer is worth a thousand words. Bill Meleady is delightful as the crusty old gent who falls under the spell of an intoxicating potion. "Roman Fever is a short story by Edith Wharton adapted for the stage by Hugh Leonard. The ladies do wonders with Wharton's melodrama about stolen romance in Italy but the piece reeks of antediluvian anti-feminist philosophy: You know, that women over forty are doomed to live out the remainder of their lives in bitter desperation and disappointment. Leonard's adaptation offers neither historic nor ironic perspective where a play like "The Stronger" covers the same ground but its resonating irony leaves you with something to ponder after the play is over. Nevertheless Jones and Ryding get to act up a storm. Ryding's vocal range is lower and her manner smugger and smarter than in "Genteel", and Jones has transformed herself from frumpy spinster in the farce to vengeful grand dame (in Marcella Grogan's elegant '30s garb) in this Wharton story. Meleady appears as a frisky Italian waiter offering some comic relief from the heavy-breathing dramatics.
Al Fairbrother's lighting is especially effective in "Roman Fever" where he captures the late afternoon sun. Jeanne Gugino's sets have just the right touch of whimsy: "shabby genteel" for the sisters' sitting room, and stylized Italienate for the Roman cafe.