“She believed she could, so she did.”
For whatever reason, author Rachel S. Grey’s quote from her romance novel, Scoring Wilder popped immediately into my head after leaving the performance of Antaeus Theatre Company’s production of Diana of Dobson’s.
Like Grey’s nineteen-year-old character, Kinsley Bryant, Diana goes after something ‘off-limits’ and socially ‘forbidden’ (in Kinsley’s case a guy). For Diana Massingberd, though, it is so much more. It is taking the incredibly high risk of rising above her rigidly prescribed class station of poverty where every day is morbidly and harshly the same until you die, into the world of Edwardian England’s 1%, where money brings possibility, respect and even love. And does it so powerfully!
Yup. It’s a romance. (The play is actually subtitled, A Romantic Comedy in Four Acts). A fairytale complete with ‘the guy’, ‘the clothes’, ‘the fancy vacation’, ‘the money’, all the amorous gestures and postures, and ultimately the middle finger raised at all the creeps and bad bosses who make every effort to ‘keep a girl down’, all through the lenses of kickass feminism in an un-permissive world.
In a word…AWESOME!
When Cicely Hamilton wrote this play, it was perhaps a surprising commercial success for the time period purely given her status as a woman. In fact, as a precursor, Diana of Dobson’s without a doubt rivaled her friend and colleague, successful playwright George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion not produced for stage until 1912. The piece critiques what were then the issues of the day which as it turns out are still high-focus and contemporary. Sweat labor, homelessness, sexual double standards and the nature of marriage as the only trade women can ply. No one could have known then, as the work was, over successive years, systematically written off the top ‘best plays’ lists, that it would land into 2019 as fresh and actually more insightfully dead-center of modern female politics than it did in 1908 when it was first produced. And yet, here it is, standing the test of time, upright and fierce and absolutely integrated into the current landscape and with just as much nuance, power and intellect as any playwright today could imbue. Perhaps even more by its unfortunate ‘evergreen’ subject matter. Hamilton has crafted a gorgeously written and male empathetic (as much as a go-girl) story that speaks across the board, so personally to everyone’s hopes, dreams, and struggles in a dominator culture world today whose evolution is being brutally challenged.
The absolute fun, excitement and exceeding success of Antaeus’ production however is squarely and immeasurably charged by the incomparable and sole, female lead Abigail Marks (there is no partner casting for Diana in this production), who has absorbed this gem of a title role as if it was written specifically for her, as if she were indeed Diana as we might meet her on the streets, as if feminism were feminism in 1908 as it is in 2019, and no time had passed to distinguish the years. And the play itself, as present as the daily news.
Headed up by an equally wonderful cast starting with John Bobek as the charming aristocrat Captain Bretherton, and additional hilarious and keen performances by (Kettle cast) Tony Amendola, Rhonda Aldrich, Desiree Mee Jung, Erin Barnes, Kendra Chell, Jazzlyn K. Luckett, Lynn Milgrim, and Ben Atkinson.
Under the impeccable direction of Casey Stangl, stunning costume design by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, scenic design by Nina Caussa, lighting design by Karyn D. Lawrence, and sound design by Jeff Gardner this production is not only a play for our time, but one of the best, most ‘full’ productions mounted by Antaeus Theatre Company to date.
Also props designer Katie Iannitello and accent coach Nike Doukas. The production stage manager is Heather Gonzalez.
At the Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center, Glendale, CA.
When poorly paid worker Diana inherits enough money to free her from a lifetime of drudgery, she impulsively decides to spend it all on a madcap, month-long taste of the high-life. But what she learns about love, money, and society may surprise us all.
Photo (above) by Geoffrey Wade Photography: John Bobek and Abigail Marks
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