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Neil Maffin and Caralyn Kozlowski in Restoration Comedy
(Photo © Chris Bennion)
Like a piece of divinity -- the candy, not the virtue -- Seattle Repertory Theatre's world premiere production of Amy Freed's Restoration Comedy is as light as air and full of deliciously empty calories. From the outset, characters with names like Narcissa, Loveless, Lord Foppington, and Hilaria cheerfully admit that "we just wanted to wear the clothes." And no wonder! Anna R. Oliver's glorious costumes wrap the cast in a Technicolor rainbow of swirling satins and silks. The men's hair flows as freely and beautifully, if not more so, than the women's. There are pratfalls, cleavage jokes, rhyming couplets, thong underwear, and plenty of seduction scenes. What more could a holiday audience wish for?

Freed, the author of Safe in Hell and The Beard of Avon, drew from two separate 17th-century plays to concoct Restoration Comedy, and the seams don't always match. A handful of characters disappear abruptly, and a marginal subplot launches the second act. But these are trivial concerns, soon forgotten in director Sharon Ott's giddy comic romp through English drawing rooms and bedrooms.

The play swarms with characters that seem to multiply as the story progresses. The linchpin is Loveless (Stephen Caffrey), the philandering husband of Amanda (Caralyn Kozlowski); he abandoned her 10 years ago, intent on sleeping his way across Europe. Returning to London after his decade of debauchery, he's soon reunited with his friend Worthy (Neil Maffin), who tells him that Amanda is dead. This is untrue, of course; it's just part of Worthy's scheme to reunite Amanda, who still pines for her husband, with Loveless. If only Worthy can extinguish the torch he carries for Amanda!

As Loveless, Caffrey struts and stumbles across the stage with a goofy charm reminiscent of George Clooney's comic turn in O Brother, Where Art Thou. Maffin has the tough task of playing straight man to Caffrey's buffoon but pulls it off by endowing Worthy with an earnest, convincing love for the virtuous Amanda (Under Worthy's benign guidance, the prim Amanda finds her inner hottie. She handily recaptures the wayward Loveless in a pyrotechnic display of wit -- and leg.)

Along the way, silly secondary characters ramp up the comic volume. Among them are Sir Novelty Fashion (Jonathan Freeman), who revels in colossal wigs and outrageous pink-and-green getups; the bawdy Hilaria, played by a braying, busty Laura Kenny; and the flea-brained Narcissa, played by Bhama Roget, reprising the kind of dimwit blonde role she does so well. The expert Laurence Ballard tears into an assortment of bit parts, including a hapless servant, a lusty parson, and the hostile Sir Tunbelly Clumsey (backed by a cardboard-cutout gang of cronies); but the topper is his lewd turn as the marriage broker Old Coupler Manlove. Vamping it up in blue eye shadow and bee-stung lips, Ballard is a middle-aged Little Lord Fauntleroy run amok.

Scenic designer Hugh Landwehr gives the cast an elegant playpen in which to frolic. Outsized antique etchings sketch the locations and wisely refrain from competing with the dazzling costumes, but the set earns its quota of laughs with such sight gags as a pop-up harpsichord, a stuffed cow, and a traveling carriage. Restoration Comedy isn't the sort of play in which the ending is ever in doubt; the audience knows that Loveless will revert to his wicked ways and that Worthy and Amanda will pair off at last. Fortunately, there's plenty of fun in getting there.

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