“We can say anything we want to.” Such was the denouement of sorts to the April de Angelis drama, Playhouse Creatures, in Meredith College’s intimate little Studio Theater. Giving exultant voice to this conclusion was Nell Gwyn, the lead character in the seventeenth century setting. Celebrated here and throughout the play was the fact that women now enjoyed a new form of freedom. They were now able to appear for the first time on the English stage with the onset of Charles II's reign. It would appear in some sense that their victory was somewhat hollow. To see their progress in its darkest light, they came to be seen as an entertaining, and perhaps generally obtainable, novelty to the lecherous men in that early audience.
The aforementioned erstwhile seller of oranges, Nell Gwyn, owed her eventual “success” to her quick wit and drive, not to mention becoming long-term courtesan to the king. Mrs. Betterton, a beautiful actress of a certain age, saw herself as the mother hen and drama coach of the players. Her eventual lot was a melancholy one as her physical beauty (and hence her significance) faded. “Time don’t spare nobody.” Mrs. Marshall was the independent and ambitious one. The coquettish Mrs. Farley was the truly tragic figure, envisioning a bright future but becoming pregnant and submitting to an on-stage abortion in one of the more uncomely scenes of the evening. Doll Common, perhaps the most sympathetic character in the play, was the nanny and general-purpose overseer for the other four.
There was no storyline as such, and no “acts.” One vignette after another carried on, sometimes to tedium. The London playwright has furnished this work with a plethora of gratuitous bawdy lines, presumably to demonstrate that women can sound just as crude as men. The players made a good stab at the English accents of the day. But that effort was doubtless instrumental in befogging many of the work’s “cleverisms.” The enunciation was, in a word, dreadful. With that doleful qualification out of the way, what was good about the production?
First, one would have to pronounce the acting by these women as uniformly first-rate. Natasha Bress brought superb believability to the unpretentious Doll Common. The feisty Spencer Powell and the elegant Kiran Subramaniam could scarcely have been improved upon as Nell Gwyn and Mrs. Betterton, respectively. Marilyn Gormon lent wonderful craftiness to Mrs. Marshall, and the audience could credibly weep for the pathos Lauren Moore brought to Mrs. Farley. The contributions of Julie-Kate Cooper, Meredith Davis, and Virginia Edwards as the Ensemble must not be overlooked. They were especially winsome and mirthful in their appearances.
Director Catherine B. Rogers and Stage Manager Michelle Henderson can be justly pleased with the overall management. The flow of the manifold scenes was seamless and free of jarring distractions.
“One can go a long way in the theater with an open mouth.” That audience-pleasing line happened to come through clearly. Now about that (lack of) enunciation…
This production continues nightly through November 13 and at 3 p.m. on November 14. See our calendar for further information.