He’s a translator and a librettist. Restoration was written as a condemnation of the (Margaret) Thatcher administration—the “Iron Lady” who was the conservative Prime Minister of England in the 1980s—which, if Bond is to be believed, had a kind of “let them eat cake” attitude toward the common people.
I read that Restoration was labeled a “pastorale” and had music in its original incarnation, but the production at St. Louis Shakespeare under the masterly direction of Milt Zoth is a straight play. The first act is almost entirely humorous. The time is 18th century Restoration period, the place, England, and the foppish Lord Are (Michael Brightman) is being married to Ann Hardache (Nicole Angeli) because he needs money and she has it. She is a shrewish sort whose father (Tim Kidwell) wants to get rid of her. (He also has an ulterior motive, but we don’t learn about that until much later.) Brightman is brilliant as the noble peacock who struts and preens in full makeup and blonde Elvis wig dressed in upholstery fabrics. He is nearly unbearable in his pomposity, and his new wife matches him in her bitchiness.
Meanwhile, below stairs, Bob Hedges (Luke Lindberg) has returned home from London and his new bride, Rose (Delisa Richardson) is a servant to the new Lady Are. Rose is black, and that fact is mentioned often, even by her husband. However, Bob’s mother (Donna Weinsting) is untroubled, noting that a “black cow gives milk same as a white one.” Bob’s friend Frank (Bradley Behrmann) is an outdoor servant, unlike Bob who works indoors, a higher status position. While Frank rages against the class system, Bob is a team player and follows orders. Both end up jailed—Frank for theft, of which he is guilty, and Bob for murder, of which he is innocent.
Lord Are is the embodiment of entitlement. He is also crafty, and thinks on his feet to turn matters to his own advantage, however preposterous the circumstances. The only person who crosses him is his gigantic mother (Gwynneth Rausch) who looks like a gowned and bejeweled Jabba the Hutt. She is so monstrous that servants have to wheel her around, and her get-up is genius. She is willing to do the right thing as far as her son is concerned, but circumstances conspire to make her gesture futile. She also does not appear until Act II, as does Mrs. Wilson (Kim Sansone), the hangman’s wife who is the housekeeper for the jail (or, I should say “gaol”?) and complains to Mrs. Hedges about how her husband’s wages are simply insufficient. Her tea things demonstrate her pretensions, albeit she is hasty to point out a highly symbolic “crack.”
There are verbal shots fired all around about Methodists, religion in general, blind obedience to authority, cruelty to the lower classes, racism, greed, the abuse of power, and much more. The weakness here is that Act II gets preachy, therefore it throws the pace of the play off rather badly and it becomes tedious in spots. Act I is so entertaining that the contrast is obvious. The too-long speeches given by various characters threaten to lose the audience, but then we are rescued by some other irony or idea to be considered. Also, as the play progresses, its tone darkens gradually, and at some point, we realize this just isn’t very funny anymore, nor is it meant to be.
In addition to Brightman, the cast is strong to a player. Some of the accents are shaky here and there, but that is of no great consequence. It’s a visually lovely show, especially Wes Jenkins’ costumes. Five backdrops suggest the elegance of a country estate and two cells give us the impression of the dismal prison. Set design credit goes to Christie Johnston. Occasional projections on the center flat illustrate what the speakers are discussing when they step forward for their commentaries on the social issues before us, but I have mixed feelings about how well that works. Patrick Huber’s lights are essential to define the playing spaces, and the lighting plot is ingenious.
In sum, this is a pretty good play made better by this director and cast. Congratulations to all involved.
Restoration runs through Aug. 14, 2011. For information, you may visit www.stlshakespeare.org. Andrea Braun also reviews for KDHX 88.1 FM radio.
BY: ANDREA BRAUN – THEATRE CORRESPONDENT