Literary classics, we are taught, are like vegetables. We're supposed so see. them· or read them . because they are good for us (as if we had a Minimum Y1larly ·Requirement of English Literature), not necessarily because they are pleasant tasting in themselves. ·
But FC's production of William Congreve's "The Way of the World" shows that a "classic" play can be a tempting dish, flavored with the charm of 17th Century London, leavened with some· good acting performances, ·and spiced with just the right amount of wit.
Written in 1700, "Way of the World" is a sharp satire on the . morals and mores of the day' reflecting an era when the genteel ladies and gentlemen spent their days taking on lovers, hiding affairs from their spouses and tossing witty barbs at one another.
But, though the satire is biting, Congreve doesn't really scoff at his characters. They're a bunch of silly asses, he seems to say, but aren't they a jolly lot of fun? The way of the world is not altogether pretty, but we might as well enjoy it.
The plot is thicker than many a soap opera, and just as hard to follow at times. Our hero, Mirabell, wants to marry Millament, but must first get permission from Millament's aunt, Lady Wishfort, who hold~ the key to her niece's estate. Of course, Lady Wishfort can't stand Mira bell, so · Mirabell . concocts a scheme 'whereby his servant will pose as Sir Rowland and woo Lady Wishfort in order to discredit her, so Mirabell can ·then
blackmail her into letting him marry Millament. But his scheme is threatened by Fainall, who is married · to Lady Wishfort's daughter, Arabella, who is Mirabell's exmistress ..
Once .you understand what's going on, the fun of the play is in the comic wit, aQ.d Todd Glen's lively direction makes the most of it. He also makes the period of history come alive, from the admonition against snuff snorting at the beginning of the play to the imaginatively choreographed servants bowing and dancing while making scene changes. ·
Of the acting performances, the one who stands out is Danny Moreno as Mirabell. He is an actor completely at ease in the role, a roguish' yet likeable ladies man willingly being led by the nose by Millameht.
Almost stealing the show, however, are Michael T. Kelly as Lady Wishfort's foppish nephew Witwood, and Michael B. Moynahan as his equally prissy friend, Petulant, who hover around Millament but seem to enjoy each other's company more. Their best scene comes when they meet Witwood's earthy halfbrother Sir Willful (played with bawdy fun by .Ron Dickinson), who knocks the powder right off their wigs.
Two other acting performances were good, but incomplete. Shelia Grimes' Millamont was sweetly nasty, tossing out barbs at everyone, yet she seemed to have trouble making. the transition between sarcasm and her true love for Mirabell. Tia Odiam as Lady Wishfort gave a performance reminiscent of Margaret Dumont; but still couldn't overcome the fact that she is definitely not 55 years old.
The only .actor who missed the boat completely was Kim Jensen as Fainall. Jensen seemed confused ·and afraid to commit himself on which direction to take the character, and wound up in the muddled
middle .between the forceful character Fainall pretends to be and the sniveling coward he really is.
The set (by Bob. Jensen) is not as elaborate as one might expect in a play like this, relying on suggestion rather than ornamentation. The costumes by Gwen Sharoff and Gary Krinke are splendid, however, with Millaftlent's flowing yellow gown and Mrs. Fainall's gentle pastels especially lovely.
Before seeing "Way of the World," it might be a good idea to read the play first, so you can catch the humor without struggling to figure out what's going on. But even if you can't ·figure out all of the plot, "Way of the World", playing through Jan.· 17 at the Studio Theatre, is a rewarding evening ..