BWW Review: WIDOWERS' HOUSES at Washington Stage Guild
DC's little jewel, known as the Washington Stage Guild (WSG), has always presented pieces that you can't see elsewhere in the area. With its current offering Widowers' Houses, WSG gives area theatregoers a chance to see a lesser known work by esteemed playwright George Bernard Shaw. While this script is not a center piece of Shaw's canon (a la Pygmalion or Heartbreak House) WSG, true to form, delivers a high-end production of it featuring a top-notch group of performers.
The play is set in the 1880s. We meet Cokane and Harry Trench (Michael Glenn and Scott Harrison), a well-connected, but not very wealthy doctor, in a restaurant garden. They meet fellow vacationers Mr. Sartorius (Laurence Redmond), a self-made businessman, and his daughter Blanche (Madeline Farrington). Trench immediately falls for Blanche and before you know it, the two are engaged - after Trench meets some of Mr. Sartorius' requirements with the help of Cokane and his mighty pen. We then shift to Mr. Sartorius' library where Trench is ultimately given permission to marry Blanche. It is here we meet one of Mr. Sartorius' recently dismissed employees, a rent collector named Mr. Lickcheese (Steven Carpenter). Lickcheese keeps coming around to ask for his job back so that he can feed his family. He's armed with information as to how Mr. Sartorius' really makes his living and is able to afford very nice things for Blanche - a situation that also impacts Trench. Meanwhile, Blanche who has a bit of a temper, breaks off her engagement to Trench over financial issues. Lickcheese returns to the house a few months later all cleaned up with a business proposition for Sartorius, which also involves Trench. This proposition could lead to a development on the Harry-Blanche Marriage front.
Director Laura Giannarelli keeps the show paced well and brings out the best from her marvelous performers. With a lesser cast and director, I can't imagine how this show would have played.
Laurence Redmond, as Mr. Sartorius, was a last-minute replacement for an ailing actor, but you wouldn't know that by watching him perform. His performance as the businessman and watchful father is as good as any I've seen him give.
Madeline Farrington as the temperamental daughter Blanche commands the stage throughout the performance. I know she is based in NYC, but area theatres really need to consider casting her more. Her presence is undeniable.
Steven Carpenter, as Lickcheese, gives a powerhouse performance that is reminiscent of Stanley Holloway 's Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady. He has a warm and funny yet conniving way about him that makes his performance an unforgettable one.
Scott Harrison, as star-crossed lover Harry Trench also turns in a strong performance as does Michael Glenn as his friend Cokane.
Paige O'Malley might not have a lot of stage time, but she makes a memorable impression as the parlor maid, particularly because she gets assaulted by Farrington's Blanche in a fight expertly staged by John Gurski.
The physical elements match the performances. The settings, co-designed by Carl F. Gudenius and Kirk Kristibas, prove that even with a small budget, you can create impressive production elements. The garden restaurant consists of two tables, a cart and an attractive two-piece stone wall. When the action moves to the library, there are three panels that track on for the walls and a large table is placed center for Santorius' desk. With just those few pieces, Shaw's words come shining through without a big clunky production design.
Sigridur Johannesdottir's costumes are period appropriate and Marianne Meadows' lighting is, as usual, subtle and enhances rather than detracts from the action. Marcus Darnley's sound design consists of old British music hall recordings and gets us in and out of each of the three acts.
Washington Stage Guild for whatever reason never seems to attract the audience size it deserves. There were only a dozen or so people at my performance and this company deserves better than that. Even if Widowers' Houses isn't the Shaw you are used to seeing, I urge you to consider attending and support the fine work WSG puts forth every single time.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes including two intermissions.
Widowers' Houses runs through October 22, 2017 at the Undercroft in the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, which is located at 900 Massachusetts Ave, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, click here.