Monday, May 19, 2014

Exhilarating Taproot play is completely up-to-date despite being written in 1908!

Helen Harvester in Diana of Dobson’s. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
I always expect plays at Taproot Theatre to be well-done in most every respect. Technical support (sets, costumes, lights, sound) is always appropriate, actors are all solidly talented, and the experience is invariably pleasing, at minimum.

Every once in a while, they blow even that high expectation out of the water and their current production of Diana of Dobson’s is one such occasion! The play is a gem of a script by Cicely Hamilton. It focuses on a shop girl whose humdrum and restricted working conditions are similar to any minimum-wage earner or factory worker in our current economy. She unexpectedly receives an inheritance and, despite pleas from her fellow workers to be careful and save her money, decides to blow it all in one glorious month of pleasure that she can remember forever.

I doubt that there is anyone on earth who couldn’t understand the circumstances and motivations of this character, except maybe the 1%ers… And who might not identify.

Directed by Karen Lund, an ensemble of actors including Charissa Adams, Marianna de Fazio, Macall Gordon, Olivia Hartshorn, Nathan Jeffrey, Jenny Vaughn and Nikki Visel ably assist the main characters with varieties of British accents and styles.

Helen Harvester shines as the young Diana Massingberd who is spunky enough and self-knowing enough to buck the expected behaviors. She lands in the Swiss Alps and meets a trio of upper-crusters: Sir Jabez Grinley (Jeff Berryman), a gruff boot-strapped tradesman who owns the shop Diana worked for, and Victor Brethrerton and his watchful aunt Mrs. Cantelupe (Ian Bond and Llysa Holland). We know they are getting duped by Diana’s lack of income, but we really can’t be that outraged. And the script allows Diana to be graceful about her deception, and never really exactly lie.

Costume designer Sarah Burch Gordon masters every style and period of costume, often. Here she outdoes herself with gorgeous frocks that elevate their wearers to the height of beauty and fashion-forward style.

The script focuses on the unfair aspects of the “ornamental class” that doesn’t “do” anything while enjoying the labors of others. It certainly could be that 1%ers might feel persecuted if they were to see the play! And Lund’s notes in the program say that when the play was first presented in London in 1908, it actually caused some change in awareness of those shop workers’ plight and caused people to want to do something about it.

It doesn’t seem all that likely that a mild-mannered comedy could also be a politically charged vehicle for change. But this might be the case of using honey. This is a delightful evening and a superbly written play. Do see it!


For tickets, go to www.taproottheatre.org or call 206-781-9707.