Should theater be more of a drinking experience? It's an age-old question that divides the English-speaking world as much as the ocean that separates us. The Flea Theater has appropriately opted for the British method in their production of Amy Freed's Restoration Comedy, a bawdy, thoughtful, and downright fun pastiche on the comedies of the British Restoration.
Upon entering set designer Julia Noulin-Merat's Restoration Era drawing room, I was immediately handed a cocktail as several very attractive actors clad in elaborate wigs and elegantly-embroidered justacorpses began flirting with me. This is my kind of play. The actors mingled (some in character, some not) for the next several minutes as the audience took their seats. Eventually a pair of cartoonish hosts (the hilarious Matthew Cox and Whitney Conkling) announced that the show was about to commence.
The play itself often feels incidental to the surrounding event. Amanda (Allison Buck) is the perfect English lady, mourning the death of her husband Loveless (James Fouhey), a playboy who is not actually dead, but gallivanting in deepest, darkest France, a land where libertines in erotic wrestling singlets act out their most forbidden desires to the wanton beats of the Scissor Sisters. When Mr. Worthy (Seth Moore) informs Amanda of her husband's impropriety, she schemes to masquerade as a slut in an attempt to seduce him back to their marriage bed. But is a manwhore like Loveless really a good match for the prudish Amanda?
Playwright Amy Freed has taken the Restoration form and used it to examine a still very relevant question: is monogamous til-death-do-us-part marriage really an appropriate arrangement for all relationships? How can I believe that Loveless and Amanda will live happily ever after when I clearly see him chatting up that cute hipster girl during intermission?
Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar has created a party-like atmosphere throughout the play. The drinks keep flowing (unlimited cocktails with your ticket purchase!) and hors d'oeuvres are served during an extended intermission that very quickly turns into a cool Bushwick party, but with better clothes.
Will Taylor's choreography provides for many of the high points in the evening, including Baroque party dances to the Scissor Sisters' "Let's Have a Kiki," "Baby Come Home," and a harpsichord-infused arrangement of "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'." Those dances are enhanced by Loren Shaw's whimsical and fabulous costumes. Shaw has created over 180 outrageous looks for this extravaganza with items ranging from towering bird cage wigs to gold lame spanky pants.
The very best costumes are reserved for Stephen Stout, who gives a standout performance as Lord Foppington, the gold-digging man of fashion arranged to marry a homely country heiress. As the country heiress, Bonnie Milligan brings down the house with her song about the pains of being a virgin with an itchy vagina. All together, this is an energetic young cast that works up quite a sweat—they sing, dance, act, play instruments, and serve refreshments—in this marathon stage spectacle.
At around three and a half hours (including extended party breaks), Restoration Comedy is a commitment. Much like eternal matrimony to your soul mate however, that commitment is worth it. If the Bats have taught us anything, it is that theater (and eternal matrimony?) tends to fly by a lot fasted when you're a little bit buzzed.