Playwright: Frederick Lonsdale
At: Remy Bumppo at Victory Gardens
Phone: ( 773 ) 871-3000; $33-$38.50
Runs through: Jan. 8
By Jonathan Abarbanel
Frederick Lonsdale was an immensely successful British playwright circa 1910-1940; a slightly older, hetero contemporary of Noel Coward who was just as clever as Coward although not as witty. Aren't We All is a typical 1923 drawing room comedy about Upper Class people wearing gorgeous clothing. You know the sort of thing: an attractive husband and wife each of whom is caught in a compromising situation, and will they come out of it with their love, honor and vanity intact. Well, of course they will; it's a drawing room comedy.
In this instance the couple is Willie Tatham ( Shawn Douglass ) and his wife Margot ( Linda Gillum ) who dally, respectively, with seductive girl-about-London Kitty Lake ( Elaine Robinson ) and dashing Aussie traveler John Willocks ( Nick Sandys ) . Eventually Willie and Margot achieve a happy end, in part through the seemingly bumbling intersession of Willie's father, Lord Greham ( Joe Van Slyke ) , still rather a rake at the advanced age of 59, but an experienced and wise rake. Lord Greham himself ends up partnered to the admirable Lady Frinton ( Annabel Armour ) .
It's what we call a style comedy today. The story and situation are familiar, so the elegant 1920s Upper Crust style becomes all-important. Fortunately, the Remy Bumppo team are strong stylists who carry off Aren't We all with panache to spare, especially as smoothly guided by director Jessica Thebus ( who seems quite recovered from her missteps with another style show, Mornings At Seven, last summer ) . The heart of this sort of play is what is called throw-away style or technique; a manner of speaking lines in a casual, tossed-off way as if they weren't written at all. It's harder to do than it sounds. Everyone in this company is good at throw-away, but there is a first among equals. Cagey veteran Van Slyke—too seldom seen on local stages—is an absolute master of the half-mumble, the slight hesitation, the dry riposte and the wry crack that are the soul of throw-away.
Coupled with the fine cast are truly gorgeous costumes by Janice Pytel. From a sporty day suit for Willocks ( perfectly fitted to the svelte Sandys ) to 1920s beaded evening dresses for the women, these outfits drip with dash and swank. The scenic design by John Dalton doesn't match the rich reality of the costumes, but has charm and grace nonetheless with its warm hues of gold, powder blue, cream and rose detailed with stenciled designs.
The strength of the cast and the handsome look of the show are reasons enough to put Aren't We All on your list as a non-holiday show to see this holiday season. Like a glass of good champagne, it has sprightly energy and a pleasant kick.