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The Way of the World ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
January 19, 2018 

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) is charmed by Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley) at an art exhibit in the Hamptons.  (Also pictured: Erica Dorfler and Brandon Espinoza.) . Photo by Teresa Wood

Playwright and Director Theresa Rebeck’s campy, modern adaptation of The Way of the World is one of the early offerings in the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival – on now in theaters around the Washington metropolitan area.  Rebeck is best known as creator/writer of TV’s “Smash” and “NYPD Blue” and movie “Harriet the Spy”.  In this funny, frothy, scandalous satire, whose original author was 18th C playwright William Congreve, Rebeck switches the setting to the Hamptons – the Gatsbyesque playground of the rich and infamous.  That small change of venue proves a deliciously, decadent environs for the classic tangle between the upper crust and the hoi polloi.

Henry (Luigi Sottile) and friend Charles (Brandon Espinoza, right) enjoy a cocktail and the Hamptons’ sun. Photo by Teresa Wood

Henry (Luigi Sottile) and friend Charles (Brandon Espinoza, right) enjoy a cocktail and the Hamptons’ sun. Photo by Teresa Wood

Sipping twee blue martinis between gossipy luncheons and romps between the sheets, the self-anointed ones tend to their wardrobes and painted lawns.  Apparently, vivid green grass is a must at the posher seaside estates.

Blonde beauty Mae (Eliza Huberth) is heiress to a $600 million fortune.  Do the summer studs want her for her money or her leggy good looks?  What do you think?  Her cougar, dowager aunt René is too busy playing musical beds to care.  When we meet Henry (Luigi Sottile), a notable gadabout and serial cad, he has just broken Mae’s heart.  “To hell with men!” the ladies concur, seconded by the Waitress (Ashley Austin Morris), an out-of-town summer hire who voices the outsider’s view of all this mayhem and reckless acquisitiveness.

Mae doesn’t really give a fig about all that cash.  The Birkenstock-sporting, Prius-driving heiress plans to chuck it all and move to Haiti to tend to the poor.  Not so her bibulous Aunt René (Tony Award nominee Kristine Nielsen – think Joanna Lumley as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous).  As guardian of Mae’s funds, René prefers the lavish life suggesting she does her bit for the less fortunate.  “We employ the 99%!  We are the curators of the American legacy!”

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) gets to know the enigmatic Lyle Swofford (Daniel Morgan Shelley) of Nantucket. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) gets to know the enigmatic Lyle Swofford (Daniel Morgan Shelley) of Nantucket. Photo by Teresa Wood.

As with summer season in the Hamptons, it is all about hookups at night and shopping tony boutiques during the day.  That’s where the pretty Katrina (Erica Dorfler) comes in.  As salesgirl and part-time model of Charles’ designer fashions, she has her nose in everyone’s business, especially her gays, both Charles (Brandon Espinoza) and Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley), a scion from Nantucket in town for the season and eager to please his cousin Reg (Elan Zafir), a Peter Pan preppy looking for love.

Hamptonites Katrina (Erica Dorfler), Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley, center), and Charles (Brandon Espinoza) enjoy a cocktail and watch the estate lawn get painted a pristine green. Photo by Teresa Wood

Hamptonites Katrina (Erica Dorfler), Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley, center), and Charles (Brandon Espinoza) enjoy a cocktail and watch the estate lawn get painted a pristine green. Photo by Teresa Wood

As you might expect, the amours and dalliances crisscross between the characters and hilarity ensues – a great deal of it in this delightfully silly and cleverly crafted comedy – where Set Designer Alexander Dodge renders us speechless with a floor-to-ceiling series of spotlit boxes filled with luxe shoes and assorted bibelots and beds that revolve to reveal illicit rendezvous.  As for the decidedly stylish fashions, we have Costume Designer Linda Cho to thank for that.

Very clever and riotously funny.  Highly recommended.

Through February 11th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077.

For more on the Women’s Voices Theater Festival that runs throughout January and February.  And to find the theaters featuring the women playwrights’ productions.

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