Friday, September 28, 2012

Gaudy Night: great fun at the theatre!

W and I enjoyed the Gaudy Night show at Taproot Theatre last night! Producing Artistic Director Scott Nolte knows his actors and his space and once again provided an entertaining evening.

The story starts in 1935 with a girls'-night gone wrong. In an era where society questioned the value of educating women, female dons and students tried to minimize any scandal: when one occurred, it was not easily forgiven or forgotten.

Oxford alumni of 1935 have gathered for their annual Gaudy Night celebrations but a cloud hangs over their women's college. Crude notes threaten mayhem and vandalism almost derails a celebration. Who can find the culprit?

Enter detective novelist Harriet Vane, 15-year alumna of Shrewsbury College. FYI for those of you unaware of British university systems: separate "colleges" - what we call universities - are clustered under a single university name. Thus, Oxford University today consists of 38 independent, self-governing colleges with a governing regent, usually someone famous. (Prince Philip is regent of Cambridge, for instance.)

If you like entertaining fun, this who-did-it? surprises the viewer with its twists and turns, delights with cultural insights into British academia, spinsterhood, and the early C20 class system. Don't miss the romantic banter between the female novelist and her suitor and mentor, Sayer's hero and British diplomat, Lord Peter Wimsey. The audience around me sat on the edges of their seats. Sometimes they laughed aloud at the British humor, occasionally they held their breath with suspense, sucked into the story like I was.

As usual, Taproot maximizes its small stage. The audience sits close enough to get intimately involved in the action, which my seat-mates and first-time attendees kept exclaiming about. The set changes, minimal, efficient, and at times resembling a choreographed dance, fired our imaginations as the action traveled between library, guestroom, faculty offices, and punt (a small river boat beloved by students because it requires great balance to pole along). The costuming (by Sarah Burch Gordon) was simple and authentic.

The actors' body acting riveted my attention as much as the script by Frances Limoncelli. Jeff Berryman (Lord Peter Wimsey) and Alyson Scadron Branner (Harriet Vane) were convincingly funny and serious by turn. Overall this show was outstanding, barring small blips in lines that stopped the flow a few times and occasional foul language.

My recommendation (and my guest's): ****+ or 4.5 stars. I'd say, "DON'T miss this one!" Gaudy Night is Taproot's final play of the 2012 season, running through October 20. It's long (2:20) but the story is hilarious and full of adventure. If you'd like to stay behind to discuss the play, purchase Wednesday tickets.

Coming up for 2013: Jeeves in Bloom (if you haven't meet P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster, you'll laugh yourself to bits at the interaction between the silly nobleman and butler); Lopez's The Whipping Man; Moses' Bach at Leipzig; Mills' adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in Illyria; and Wilder comedic The Matchmaker.

Tickets were provided gratis to the reviewer by Taproot.

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