If you haven’t yet made it to Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW)for We Happy Few’s latest production, you may have missed your chance to see the Helen Hayes-recommended company’s season opener. Rave reviews have had patrons scurrying for seats in CHAW’s cozy black box theater, and the company just announced that remaining performances of Lovers’ Vows are sold out.
But as playwright Elizabeth Inchbald seems to imply, not all hope is lost. If you’re just dying to see 18th-century wit on display this weekend, you might try your luck: waitlist seating on a first-come, first-served basis is an option for any unclaimed day-of-the-show tickets for the rest of the run, through November 23. And you might find it worth it.
Many of the show’s themes remain as relevant in today’s sociopolitical climate as they did in Inchbald’s era – notably, there’s a lot of talk about what women should and shouldn’t be doing, without much input from, well, women. Modern music by DC-based band The North Country propels the plot forward in ways that give what could have been an otherwise “overdone” narrative (love, loss and redemption) an attractively creative spin.
As is usually the case for We Happy Few productions, several actors play more than one role. Their mastery of this device is a testament to the small company’s spunk and skill. Director Kerry McGee’s onstage presence – which often drives the energy of the company’s shows – is missed. But Jessica Lefkow brings compelling spark to her two characters – both spurned lover/abandoned mother and lady-killing dandy. On Tap spoke to McGee about the sell-out show’s creative vision and more below.
On Tap: Why did you choose to put on a production of this show now?
Kerry McGee: I was inspired by the Women’s Voices Festival that theatreWashington puts up every couple of years. Their focus is to encourage local theaters to produce more work by female playwrights. For classical companies, “female playwright” often means a new adaptation by a woman of a classical play that was written by a man. But there were women playwrights out there from as far back as the 10th century. So I started trying to read as much work as I could by them. There’s a lot of funny, witty plays from women of the 17th and 18th centuries especially, but Lovers’ Vows was ultimately my favorite. The way the women are written felt very ahead of its time – so much so that its initial reception was controversial. A major plot point is about doing the right thing no matter what society dictates. That felt like a nice story to tell right now.
OT: What are some of your favorite creative decisions you’ve made for this adaptation?
KM: We’ve chosen to embrace the melodrama instead of working around it. The actors lean into the big emotional moments and choose to invite the audience to join in the fun with direct address and shared looks. The musical score from The North Country allows the moments of melodrama and heightened emotions to spill out onto the stage. We’ve had a lot of fun creating dance and movement sequences to their music. I was worried that next to the Regency costumes and Old World manners, the music might seem anachronistic. But it doesn’t at all. It’s a beautiful extension of the world, and the contemporary soundtrack highlights the modernity of the script.
OT: Does this show feel like a significant divergence from previous WHF productions?
KM: Not at all. I think it is influenced by and builds on the work we’ve created before. The balance of humor is reminiscent of our production of Dog in the Manger, and the movement-based storytelling lives in the same world as our Pericles. I feel like every new production from We Happy Few helps us hone in on our particular style of storytelling.
We Happy Few will be celebrating Lovers’ Vows with a fundraising event for the 2019-2020 season. Between the matinee and evening performances on Saturday, November 23 from 4-7 p.m., We Happy Few is hosting Shakespeare Karaoke at Lola’s on 8th Street in Eastern Market. No tickets are required for that event.
Lola’s: 711 8th St. SE, DC; 202-846-7728; www.lolasdc.com