BWW Review: Antaeus' DIANA OF DOBSON'S - A Firecracker of A Woman (& A Play) To Experience
Playwright Cicely Hamilton's first productions of her DIANA OF DOBSON'S in 1908 must have been quite controversial with a, then unheard of, strong, outspoken woman Diana Massingberd as the lead character. Abigail Marks more than fills the shoes of Diana with her relentless command of the stage, constantly speaking her quite honest mind, whether in the midst of her peers (her lady co-workers of Dobson's Drapery Emporium in London), or in the elite company of the rich and famous in a plush hotel in Pontresina, Switzerland. Director Casey Stangl deftly guides her talented cast in a fast-talking, fast-paced journey of Diana's adventures.
Play opens with three of Diana's co-workers in their sparse dormitory room. The vocal interplay between these three women (captivatingly played by Kristin Ariza, Cindy Nguyen and Krystal Roche) enchant and enthrall in their gossiping, dreams and well-wishes, all the while getting out of their layers and layers of clothing, and undoings of their elaborate Gibson Girl hairdos. Kudos to costumer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg and wigs and hair designer Jessica Mills for their spot-on period contributions. (Spoiler alert: Do enjoy these actresses in these three characters as these three delightful characters, most unfortunately, do not reoccur pass this initial scene.) These three, joined by a later arriving co-worker (Shannon Lee Clair), do go on about the un-likeability and non-popularity of Diana, as Diana has a tendency to not bite her tongue in speaking with her superiors, causing shared punishments or reprimands to all the women.
With the just arrived letter informing Diana of her inheritance of 300 pounds from her recently deceased relative, Diana announces she's quitting Dobson's and going to really enjoy herself on a vacation.
Scenic designer Nana Caussa's stark, metal-framed bedded dormitory most cleverly transforms in the plush lobby of the Hotel Engadine in the Alps before the audiences' eyes. Now in Pontresina and decked out in posh outfits, Diana mingles effortlessly with the vacationing aristocrats already there - Mrs. Cantelupe and her nephew Captain Victor Bretheron, and Mrs. Cantelupe's friends Mrs. Whyter-Fraser and Sir Jabez Grinley.
Eve Gordon's impeccable comic timing mines the ultimate laughs from her Mrs. Cantelupe's quips. Gordon effortlessly shows the audience all the hard work it takes to be a socialite. One can actually emphasize with Gordon's Mrs. Cantelupe's heavy plight.
John Bobek totally inhabits the born-with-a-silver-spoon Captain Bretherton. Charming, yet unexposed to the realities of 'the common folk who need to work,' Bobek throws cute, immature tantrums when not getting his befuddled way.
John Apicella makes his stage presence known as Sir Grinley, the well-to-do factory owner who thinks nothing of overworking his faceless employees to death. Apicella shines in his comic lighter bit.
Lynn Milgrim simply IS the doddering, harmless, accommodating Mrs. Whyte-Fraser.
After the second intermission, Caussa's set changes to the Thames Embankment, full of homeless. Paul Stanko makes his mark as the efficient, respectful Constable Fellowes who recognizes his former military superior Capt. Bretherton amongst the embankment's denizens. Bobek easily essays a much more matured Bretherton. Milgrim, in her second role as a homeless Old Woman, spouts wisdom wise beyond her years and her situation.
Technical elements quite complementary and solid, as expected at an Antaeus Theatre Company production - sound by Jeff Gardner and lighting by Karyn D. Lawrence.
Go meet DIANA. You may be put off by her brashness, but you won't forget her.