It was a festive, most satisfying evening of high-end arts entertainment and education. And it was totally free. What was it? It was a recent Monday evening at The Lansburgh with the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ReDiscovery Series.
In an interview with Drew Lichtenberg, STC Literary Manager, I learned that the revitalized ReDiscovery Series is more committed than ever to introduce local audience to not just rarely performed theatrical classics, but to bring to public attention new voices and even some previously unseen works.
For this particular October 23, Monday evening, the ReDiscovery Series presented a grand full evening. It included a delicious staged-reading, a vibrant open talk-back, and some wine with a diverse group of theater aficionados and friends.
For the first of this year’s six ReDiscovery Series events, the STC presented a staged reading of Vanity Fair, the much acclaimed production by New York City media and audiences. The reading included playwright Kate Hamill who had adapted the William Makepeace Thackeray 19th century book in the role of that “naughty,” ambitious woman from 150 years ago, the ever-spunky Becky Sharp. It was clear from the pre-performance conversations I overheard that many of that patrons had seen Hamill’s previous adapted work, Sense and Sensibility, when the Folger Theatre did its bang-up production last year.
I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year.
— Becky Sharp, Vanity Fair
While this is not a review of the Vanity Fair staged reading, it was a delightfully frisky lark with a cast of seven in modern dress using seven chairs and seven music stands. Even with only a few hours of rehearsal, the ensemble was wholly into the moment. With Hamill reading as Becky Sharp, there were Antoinette Robinson (as Amelia Sedley) and five male actors who played any number of Thackeray’s characters: male and female, old and young, rakish, bold, submissive, or snippy. The actors, some in current DC area productions or very recent ones, included Jim Lichtscheidl (also in the key role of narrator), Desmond Bing, Sasha Olinick, Bhavesh Patel, Jamie Smithson. Live music was provided by Wood Van Meter. These actors made their characters burst into existence. The reading was directed by STC Artistic Associate Craig Baldwin. Cheyonne Baylor was the stage manager.
After wine and conversation, patrons reassembled for an enlightening panel discussion and talk-back with Vanity Fair playwright and actor Kate Hamill and Rachel Vorona Cote, Victorian literature scholar and contributor at Jezebel. The panel was moderated by STC Literary Manager Drew Lichtenberg.
With questions from the audience, Hamill and Cote chatted about the humor, politics, cultural clashes, social insecurity, and heart of Vanity Fair. Hamill and Cote spoke about the deep female friendship between two very different female archetypes presented in Vanity Fair, as well as the limits for Victorian women, what being “nasty” meant in the 19th century, and the character reactions when their fortunes rose and fell.
Now, more good news. There are five more ReDiscovery events planned for those adventurous DC area theater-goers, seeking out a way to shake up a routinely “dark” Monday evening. The STC ReDiscovery Series continues on November 13, with a reading of a brand new recently discovered play, Edith Wharton’s 1901 The Shadow of a Doubt, followed by a panel discussion and wine.
“One of the most tantalizing things about The Shadow of a Doubt is it suggests the formidable playwright Edith Wharton might have been,” said Lichtenberg in an interview. “The dramaturgy of the piece has some similarities with Ibsen. But the play is also funny and wise, sprinkled with acerbic observations about gilded age society and filled with aphorisms worthy of Oscar Wilde.”
“Most intriguingly, few people ever wrote such complicated female protagonists as Wharton, and Shadow’s Kate easily belongs in the same conversation with Lily Bart from The House of Mirth, written just 4 years after this play. As an American play written decades before Eugene O’Neill got started, it suggests an entirely different pathway that American drama might have followed.”
So, mark down Monday evening, November 13, for the next Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ReDiscovery Series event. If my experience with Vanity Fair is any indication, it will be a remarkable evening taking in a never-produced play from a noted American author. How fortunate the DC area is to have the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s engaging ReDiscovery series in our midst.
Vanity Fair played one night only, October 23, 2017, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Landsburgh Theatre – 450 7th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. For information about upcoming ReDiscovery events go online.