Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: Theater Restored

Why do we go to the theater? Is it for the art? Is it for the entertainment? Is it for the opportunity think about life? Does it have to be exclusively one? It’s an age-old question that has so many answers, but one night at The Flea’s Restoration Comedy, you’ll soon realize it’s all of the above, and then some. What Restoration Comedy does not only opens your eyes as to why we see theater but lets us theater folk realize why we do theater. With the support of brilliant director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, an evening at the theater is more than just sit, watch and leave, it’s a complete hands-on experience. Iskandar has made theater a social event once again. With bottomless punch, hors d'oeuvres, a dance party at the end of the night, and an ensemble who makes it their mission to meet every person in attendance, Restoration Comedy is a celebration and truly a perfect night out. But don’t worry, Amy Freed’s play is still the reason we’re present.
Restoration Comedy is a mash-up of two pieces, Love’s Last Shift and The Relapse. If neither piece sounds familiar, fear not, you’ll still be entertained. To sum up the action of the multiple weaving plots, in order to win back the heart of her sex-hungry rake of a husband John, Amanda Loveless shifts her innocent ways to be of a flirt. She is aided by the teachings of Worthy, a man who secretly loves her. By act two, Amanda’s cousin and former companion of Worthy, Berinthia, arrives to throw a wrench in this newly formed love square. Meanwhile Foppington, a man of super high fashion, is given the honor of being made Lord while he literally shoves his younger brother to the wolves. Foppington plans to marry a woman of money, Hoyden, but before he can, his brother learns of the news and poses as Foppington to win the prize. While all of this is going, burlesque interludes set to the tunes of the Scissor Sisters help keep the Restoration aura alive. The underlying theme is love, proving that no matter the time or place, love is love. Lost? Don’t be. Thankfully, the 32-member cast comprised of the Bats, the Flea’s acting company, are a multi-talented band of superb storytellers.
The entire company, from lead to supporting to ensemble, is nothing short of dazzling. Watching a cast actually have fun and enjoy what they’re doing is a breath of fresh air. Hold onto your programs and remember these names. You’ll be seeing them in lights one day as superstars. James Fouhey as Loveless and Seth Moore as Worthy are wonderful as the radically different yet similar leading men. It’s clear why Amanda, played with such heart by Allison Buck, takes two acts to figure out who she truly desires. There is a trio of stand out performances in the supporting roles. Whitney Conkling as Narcissa, who happens to have a very fitting name, is a riot. Her physical comedy is spot on and lands every time. Bonnie Milligan is a scene-stealer as Hoyden. You don’t know what to expect when you first meet her, but once she sings “Make Me Happy,” a song wonderfully written by David Dabbon, and continues on to her cat and mouse game with Erik Olson’s adorable Young Fashion, you wish she would never leave. But the performance that will have you in stitches is given by the sparkling, sometimes literally, Stephen Stout. Stout’s Foppington, clad in some of the most outrageous of the 180 plus costumes, is hilarious, offering one of the best performances of the year on any stage. 
Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar is a true leader, bringing together a fantastic concept and guiding a young troupe of thespians to glory. The overall design of the show is stellar. The colorful pallet is used by all the designers cohesively. Julia Noulin-Merat’s perfectly minimalist set, which gets a special shout out in act II, encompasses the small theater magically. Loren Shaw’s wonderful mix of period and modern costumes help bring the show to both eras. She makes each performer look great no matter what, or how little, they’re wearing. Will Taylor does an extraordinary job as choreographer, using every nook and cranny of the small playing area with some seductive moves. His numbers, set to the fantastic songbook of the severely underrated Scissor Sisters, do a tremendous job of storytelling and entertaining. A special kudos should be given to each member of the dance ensemble. Jill BC DuBoff and Jeremy Bloom create a wonderful soundscape throughout the show. One of the most creative moments of the night is the lute-infused intros used to lead into the Scissor Sisters music, reminding us the synergy of the two periods. I think the only critique I can offer to this near flawless production is that I wished the Scissor Sisters soundtrack continued into the extended intermission and dance party to keep the aura alive.
Restoration Comedy has something for everyone. Love, compassion, boys showing skin in very little clothing, girls in quite sexy attire, laugh out loud comedy, tremendous dancing, and most importantly, purpose. The final moment of the play is the epitome of the evening: release. You enter The Flea with all your troubles behind you and leave with the biggest smile. This is the party, rather kiki, of the year.