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BWW Review: The Annex Theatre's MY DEAR MISS CHANCELLOR Slays with Rapier Wit

Mike Dilson, Sophia Franzella and Tracy Leigh in
My Dear Miss Chancellor
Photo Credit: Joe Iano

When I heard that The Annex Theatre was putting on a play about a 19th century club of fencing lesbians, I figured I was in for a night of camp and euphemisms. Although that direction would have surely been entertaining, Elizabeth Hershly's world premiere of My Dear Miss Chancellor by Caitlin Gilman was coreographed with elegance, charm, and a rapier wit.

A young, tightly wound Janet Chancellor (Sophia Franzella) comes to London giddily anticipating a season of keeping up appearances and dancing amongst her superiors in high society. Upon meeting a brazen yet mysterious Hazel McGovern (Tracy Leigh), she becomes introduced to an underground club of women who duel, drink and enjoy Sapphic merriment. Naturally, Chancellor must choose between her "sweetheart" and her place in society; however, My Dear Miss Chancellor brings sauce and sass to a tired old tale of forbidden love, with some delightful (s)word play thrown in.

I love when a play lifts the kimono (forgive the term) of society to reveal the more sordid, underground characteristics that history skimmed over. In this play's depiction of uppity, 1840s London, homosexuality is feared and women are demure (which, I imagine, holds historical weight). However, the oppression the women fight against is not really of the patriarchy but of the jealousy amongst each other. The male characters in this play are feeble, benign, and seemed only to be pawns driving home external societal pressures.

One thing that did bother me was the drastic age difference between Miss McGovern and Miss Chancellor. While Miss McGovern was scripted to be nine years Miss Chancellor's senior (McGovern 28, Chancellor 17), the actress playing McGovern seemed much older, which created odd chemistry between the two lovers. While Mr. Wendell addresses the discomfort he feels courting such a young girl-he being a greying father already-McGovern's age is never addressed, which I feel may have been the result of imperfect casting. Don't get me wrong-Leigh's portrayal of McGovern was bold and affective, but her florid relationship with McGovern seemed perhaps more taboo than the story called for with the addition of the age difference.

I was very impressed with the fencing choreography, but, as a small criticism, I did find that it could have been tightened up, particularly in Act II.

My Dear Miss Chancellor transported me to a fun, raunchy underbelly of high society, which I loved. Franzella delighted as the innocent, spritely Janet Chancellor. Leigh's portrayal of Hazel McGovern, though at times anachronistic (i.e. pixie haricut beneath her wig, conspicuous tattoos) was bold and touching. Both antagonists exuded unique, hysterical energy to the play: I could not keep my eyes off Jasmine Joshua's intense portrayal of McGovern's vengeful ex-lover Constance Shepard or coquettish confidant Charlotte Browning played by Alysha Curry. One final standout performance was incidentally that of the butler (Mattew Middleton), whose physical comedy proved that there are, in fact, no small roles. Although I found the long transitions between scenes superfluous, given the similar scenery from moment to moment, the subtle implementation of physical comedy and character relationship between the maid Mary Ann (Hannah Schnabel) and the butler made the transitions, ultimately, a delight.

At times the dialogue felt a bit redundant and the kissing-only love scenes were rather boring, but all-in-all I found the show to be a very entertaining evening of fringe theatre.

I give The Annex Theatre's My Dear Miss Chancellor 3.5/5 stars.

My Dear Miss Chancellor performs at The Annex Theatre through November 14th, 2015. For more information or tickets, visit them online at

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