19 December 2004: Vanbrugh, The Provok’d Wife

American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge. Directed by Mark Wing-Davey. Scenic design: Marina Draghici

A production very much dominated by three concepts that seem to have nothing to do with one another: 1) Southern, namely Virginia, accents, explained in the program by the historical fact of “distressed Cavaliers,” who fled England and emigrated to Virginia in the seventeenth century to escape the Cromwellian regime; 2) 1970s British punk fashion, after the styles of Vivienne Westwood, and furniture designed by Philippe Starck, who — the program explains — drew from and recontextualized past historical periods “to create new work for today”; and 3) very large-to-monumental set pieces that slide on and off stage, vaguely reminiscent of changeable wing-and-shutter scenery of the eighteenth (and late seventeenth) century public theatre. The costumes were in some cases brilliant, most notably in the case of Lady Fancyful, and the sets were often exceedingly ingenious and wonderful to look at; but the southern accents were gauche and grotesque, no matter how accurate or justifiable historically, and the whole thing seemed finally a distraction from John Vanbrugh’s witty and incisive commentary on the risks of making an unhappy marriage. The production strains so hard to achieve originality that it ends up doing the play an injustice.


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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