BWW Review: THE WAY OF THE WORLD at Folger Theatre is Biting Satire for the Reality TV Age
The DC premiere of Theresa Rebeck's satire THE WAY OF THE WORLD is adapted from a Restoration-era classic by William Congreve, but it couldn't be more contemporary and on trend. With biting wit and visual flair, it delivers timeless social commentary for the Kardashian (and Trumpian) age. Can true love exist in a world so cynical and jaded?
A cast of characters - summering in the jewel-encrusted Hamptons, naturally - seeks to find out. In a storyline that could've just as easily been taken from something on Bravo, womanizer Henry (Luigi Sottile) cheats on his heiress girlfriend Mae (a wide-eyed Eliza Huberth) with Mae's aunt, Rene (the brilliant Kristine Nielsen). Henry is determined to win back Mae's affection, but she's traded Chanel pumps for Birkenstocks and is more interested in using her $600 million inheritance to help the people of Haiti. ("That country is a sh-, sh-, shambles!" argues Rene in one of the play's ripped-from-the-headlines moments.)
The rest of the Hamptons elite - catty Katrina (Erica Dorfler), fratty Reg (Elan Zafir), flamboyant Charles (Brandon Espinoza), and suave Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley)- are gossipy supporting characters, as careless with their money as they are with their romantic and sexual entanglements. The single character from a lower social rung is the desperate, downtrodden Waitress (Ashley Austin Morris), who works six jobs and begins dabbling in theft. In between scenes and pop music interludes, she speaks directly to the audience, often with enthusiasm, sometimes with loneliness.
Nielsen as Aunt Rene is the true centerpiece, bubbling over with physical comedy. She swans and flits about in ridiculous outfits, falls all over herself, and contorts her face in agony over society's rejection of women of a certain age. As crazy as she seems, she'll have her revenge on youth and beauty.
The other star of the show is the clean, candy-colored visual design. Stilettos, hats, and handbags are exhibited in glass cases towering to the ceiling (scenic design by Alexander Dodge). Costume design by Linda Cho is modern and luxe but with cheeky nods to the past, including billowing sleeves and high-low skirts. Most of the outfits, such as Mae's beachy two-piece number and floppy hat, look editorial and excessive, embodying the play's themes.
THE WAY OF THE WORLD nails society's obsession with the skin-deep and the absurdities of the very rich. Most importantly, it's laugh-out-loud funny - often because it's true.
Running time: approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
THE WAY OF THE WORLD is part of DC's second installment of the Women's Voices Theater Festival highlighting new works by female artists. It runs through February 11th, 2018, at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. Tickets are available at www.folger.edu/theatre or by calling (202) 544-7077.