A Charming Return to the Chicago Stage
City Lit Theater gives a corker of a production of Dion Boucicault’s farce. London Assurance is a silly delight, full of colorful characters, sharp dialogue, and tricky situations. Given the fine work on display here, the fact that it hasn’t been performed in Chicago since 1897 seems as absurd as the coincidences and contrivances in the show itself.
City Lit Theater Brings Outrageous Characters to Life
Producer and artistic director Terry McCabe directs a talented ensemble through the twists and turns of romantic intrigue over three days in London and Gloucestershire, 1841. The main plot revolves around a convoluted nuptial bargain. Eighteen-year-old Grace Harkaway (Kat Evans), who believes love to be a frivolity irrelevant to her own concerns, is engaged to wed 63-year-old Sir Harcourt Courtly (Kingsley Day), who imagines himself an icon of fashion and ardor, in order to discharge his mortgage and ensure her family fortune. Or something.
Complications ensue when the old fellow’s spendthrift son Charles (Kraig Kelsey) and his friend the genial opportunist Richard Dazzle (Richard Eisloeffel) also show up at the Harkaways’ country estate looking to lie low from Charles’ increasingly impatient creditors.
The young Courtly immediately falls for his father’s fiancée, who, to her consternation, finds she is not as immune to love as she had thought. Then Grace’s cousin, the indomitable and vivacious Lady Gay Spanker (Cameron Feagin), arrives; the infatuated Sir Harcourt begins scheming to seduce her; and mere complication explodes into outright chaos.
Day portrays Sir Harcourt’s outsized vanity with exceeding drollness, while Feagin’s Lady Gay is mischief incarnate. Eisloeffel plays Dazzle so winningly that one cannot help but like him, even as he helps himself to strangers’ hospitality and pocketbooks with earnest dishonesty. Edward Kuffert, Cooper Wise, Jean Waller, and T.C. Fair provide a sharp contrast to these mischievous aristocrats as the long-suffering and dry-witted servants in the background. And, though there is not a weak spot in the bunch, Evans and Kelsey particularly sparkle as Grace and Charles, whose sparring banter could give Much Ado About Nothing’s Beatrice and Benedick a run for their money.
Light Entertainment, Lavish Design
Appropriate for a story in which ideals of fashion and appearance loom so large, the design of the production is top notch. Ray Toler’s sets and a variety of 19th century English dialects coached by Carrie Hardin help bring the audience into the city and countryside. The costume design deserves special note here: Tom Kieffer’s outfits, makeup, and hairpieces practically pop off the stage.
The genteel clowning in London Assurance calls to mind the likewise well-mannered mix-ups and machinations in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. While some might not consider Boucicault’s plotting quite as tight as Wilde’s (nor his dialogue quite so ostentatiously epigrammatic), it seems likely that most audiences will find his character interactions are no less fun and witty. City Lit Theater does a capital job with this material. Hopefully Chicago audiences will not have to wait another 120 years for the next production of this amusing and vivid show.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Now through July 23
Fridays @ 7:30PM
Saturdays @ 7:30PM
Sundays @ 3:00PM
2 Special Monday Performances:
July 10 and July 17 @ 7:30PM
Edgewater Presbyterian Church
1020 W. Bryn Mawr
Chicago, IL 60660
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and now, unexpectedly, a theater critic. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College and since returning to Chicago has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company and the late great Oracle Productions. His chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine is now available at Women & Children First, and his reviews of shows around town are available right here.