Elizabeth Inchbald’s Lovers’ Vows, first produced in 1798, is every bit as amusing as the unfortunately named Schitt’s Creek, The Good Place, or any other contemporary comedy. Inchbald, an actress and playwright, adapted it from her own translation of a work by German playwright August von Kotzebue (1761-1819). Kerry McGee, who directed her own adaptation, has taken advantage of the more modern aspects of the piece, such as an outspoken heroine and a son born out of wedlock, to make Lovers’ Vows uniquely relatable to today’s audiences.
Lovers’ Vows is mostly known for its key role in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. But it stands on its own, and McGee’s version is original, fast-moving, and a joy to watch. In the first scene we see Agatha (Jessica Lefkow) being turned out of an inn by the callous Landlord (Alex Turner). Agatha, overwhelmed with adversity, immediately gains our sympathy. The Landlord’s matter-of-fact dismissal of any moral obligation to her, as displayed by Turner, is at once disconcerting and very funny.
Agatha’s son Fredrick (Jack Novak) was born to Baron Wildenheim (Lee Ordeman) who abandoned her and married someone else. Lefkow then astonishes us as the perfidious Count Cassel, who never met a young lady who did not pique his interest. Chortling with glee, recounting his many conquests with false modesty, flirting with the audience, he represents every oily swamp creature who ever deemed himself worthy of a woman’s love. Lefkow satirizes the type even as she is embodying it. It is a superb piece of acting.
Equally impressive is the versatile Jack Novak. As Agatha’s son, he is incensed by her ill-treatment and manfully determined to alleviate her suffering. As the Butler, he soars into a kind of hilarious stratosphere. The Butler, you see, is a poet.
“Oh Muse, ascend the forked mount,
And lofty strains prepare, About a Baron and a Count,
Who went to hunt the hare.”
That sort of thing. Not only that, his poetry is inscribed on scrolls of various sizes which he unrolls with a flourish and the pride of an incurable author. Novak’s Butler is an inspired comic creation.
Gabby Wolfe is refreshingly honest and charming as our heroine, Amelia. We see her in many settings: dancing, laughing, and standing up for her own desires as a woman of today would do. As her lover, Anhalt, Alex Turner finds the humor in every excruciatingly awkward situation he faces.
Lee Ordeman is a fine Baron Wildenheim. The Baron is a character who has transgressed according to his own standards and must somehow come to terms with the pain he has caused others. Ordeman manages the transition subtly and well. He does not suddenly become a good person in the manner of melodrama, and this enriches the underlying meaning.
Besides these accomplished performances there is music, by local band The North Country, and Sound Design, by Tosin Olufolabi, which give a more 21st-century feel to what would otherwise be a period piece. Costumes by Heather Lockard are exceptionally visually appealing, and in addition illuminate character. Raven Bonniwell, as Movement Director, adds a graceful musical note to the proceedings. Lighting Design by Jason Aufdem-Brinke and Scenic Design by Jon Reynolds live up to the standard of the rest of the production.
McGee accomplishes something remarkable in Lovers’ Vows: she has enabled her actors to make fun of the melodramatic style even as they are playing it. Lovers’ Vows is 95 minutes with no intermission. I promise they will fly by.
Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.
Keith Hock, Dramaturg; Sam Reilly, Stage Manager; Bridget Grace Sheaff, Producer; Stefany Pesta, Graphic Design; Kiernan McGowan, Props Design; Ken Johnson, Assistant Stage Manager