Wednesday, November 04, 2015

"My Dear Miss Chancellor" - an evening sure to please

Sophia Franzella and Tracy Leigh in My Dear Miss Chancellor (Joe Iano Photography)
My Dear Miss Chancellor
Annex Theatre
Through November 14, 2015

There are thousands of Regency Romance novels with debonair, dashing young eligible bachelors and demure young debs daring to throw their caps at them. There are horses and carriages and gowns and corsets. Scandal might be when a young lady is seen unchaperoned and out with a young man, flouting convention and gossip. But where were the Gays and Lesbians?

There must not have been any. At least until Oscar Wilde. He was the first, right?

Not according to a spanking new play by local thespian Caitlin Gilman. My Dear Miss Chancellor dives deep into hidden Lesbian culture in the London social scene. In her vision, Lesbians daringly gather in secret societies, where they know each other and keep each other’s secrets. Where, if found out, they are certain to be drummed out of fashionable society and never heard from again.
Set in 1848, this whip-smart and fun script focuses on the coming out party of 17-year-old Janet Chancellor (Sophia Franzella) who is expected to almost-instantly find and marry an eligible young man. Her ability to survive, financially, and leave her family’s home to be independent, are all based on her marriage to a landed gentleman of means.

But Janet has a secret. She’s not like other girls and doesn’t have the same feelings as other debutantes. That becomes clear shortly after she meets another single woman, Hazel McGovern (Tracy Leigh), who has not yet found a mate, even after nine years of society galas.

Hazel offers friendship and more. She starts by introducing Janet to a secret: a fencing club for Lesbians where they practice a forbidden art. But Janet is not aware that Hazel’s spurned lover, Constance Shepard (Jasmine Joshua), is a member, and is planning revenge on her cold-hearted former lover!

There is a bit of narration to the audience by ladies maid Mary Ann (Hannah Schnabel, as a spicy, saucy Scots Lesbian) and a lot of scene changing accompanied by a live cello (Ian Johnston) with music composed by Tracy Hagen. The elegant, yet simple set (by Chris M. Roberson) allows columns to be inserted and removed quickly to open up or close up the stage for balls or fencing or bedrooms.

The cast is huge and everyone does a great job, even those playing servants. Director Elizabeth Hershly makes sure the servant set-changers move with attitude. They are fun to watch as they fuss over the placement of props and bedding, just so.

Franzella steals the attention every moment she’s on stage (which is a lot)! Her awkward-teenager is too adorable for words. Schnabel is fun in her small role, as mentioned, and Alysha Curry and Sarah Winsor have particularly fun moments, as well.

I love me some Tracy Leigh and am glad to see her on stage, but I have to say that she is pretty far away from the 26-year-old she is supposed to play. She does do a great job in the role. I also wish that she might have been asked to put stage cover-up on her multiple tattoos on her arms and back. They are so period inappropriate.

While I keep mentioning “fun,” and there are many amusing moments, there is a significant dramatic ending. And the company pulls off the switch rather well.

This is a sophisticated and fulfilling offering from Annex Theatre. It’s an evening certain to please.

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