We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

_The Clandestine Marriage_ at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre · 11 May 05

My dear Fanny,

I know you’ve seen this play many times, but it was a first for me. The heroine’s name is Fanny and so I liked it all the more.

I write to say to others if anyone reads this blog and lives anywhere near Washington D.C., haste, haste to the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. A group of actors under the direction of Richard Clifford are performing Colman and Garrick’s The Clandestine Marriage splendidly, splendidly.

I’ve read the play a couple of times and was aware it of its liveliness, intelligence and hard realisms (the money angle, the young couple is married when the play opens, the heroine pregnant so at great risk if her marriage is not recognized as legitimate, the social and aesthetic satire and pastoralism), but I hadn’t realize just how effective and entertaining it could be. It’s a play that needs to be seen and done well.

In this particular performance, the actors were central. Ian Merill Peakes, who I’ve seen before in a remarkable portrayal of Proteus in a staging of The Two Gentlemen of Verona that garnered a number of awards, played Sir John Melville. He stole the show more than once. The intense comic caricatured possibilities that came out of the actor’s emotional posturing provided bite and energy and theatrical flare. Susan Lynsky, who has played witches as well as Desdemona, was a hilariously melodramatic Miss Betty Sterling. Three older performers who are among my favorites in the DC area, Michael Tolaydo and Catherine Flyte whose duo in the poignant Sea Marks I still remember and Ted van Griethysen, were the obstacle older characters, the bourgeois cit, Sterling, his very rich yearningly snobbish sister, Mrs Heidelberg, and the foppish (in this play) excruciatingly old Lord Ogleby. I was charmed by the sweetness of Jenna Sokolowski as the "grave" somber "good" heroine, Fanny, and suavely softly handsome Aubrey Deeker as the well-meaning affectionate, tender Lovewell. Yes the roles are Ben Jonson humors stuff eighteenth century style as modified by the French influence and the particulars of the era. Marivaux’s influence is more profound than is usually understood: the perceptive kindness of the piece reminds me of his plays.

All the elements were still there from the Restoration but muted and transformed. Instead of ribaldry and people jumping into one another’s beds (The London Cuckold is my model here) we get this wink about where Lovewell spends his nights and the denouement in front of the lovers’ bedroom door late at night. Sexx servants running parallel to the upper class pairs; lawyers, chambermaid, the French valet (playing up to the foppish Lord as a pairing).

The costumes fun—really. Some absurd, some gorgeous, some just plain-period. Several of the men wore far more make-up than the women characters. The actors did manage to play against the audience’s reactions too. The set veered between a many-layered fancy garden/landscape, & a playing area before a moving set doors that waved in and out to form different shaped rooms with different furniture in a house. I was reminded of She Stoops to Conquer only here the emphasis was more on the garden against the rooms.

Probably what made the play effective was the acting: stylized and yet naturalistic enough. In many confrontation scenes where the actors strongly interacted, emoted, challenged, demanded, fooled one another in direct encounters. These were made to move swiftly enough and yet there was time for eloquence (even if in absurd mistaken or frivolous, crazy, vain, or good causes). The pace was kept up too.

No one overindulged. I’ve noticed when I’ve seen a Restoration or eighteenth century play at the National Theatre in London there’s a tendency to overdo a role, especially if the actor is famous (like Petheridge doing a fop) and so the life strength of the play seems to pause while the real person comes out too strongly. This was a disciplined group.

I do like the play’s final kindness, though not the final moralisms and trivializing of the closing scene (this has been all about uneasiness and indiscretion, hark girls, learn this … ). Stil, this is a benign realm put before us. One of the two playrights understand something about the source of real kindness.

The Clandestine Marriage is also much much less misogynistic than most 18th century plays: that’s really what is meant by sentimentalism. A woman-centered point of view is taken into account through Fanny’s very real and reasonable enough distress. The women are in rivalry and we are to dislike the older sister, but she’s no hag or monster, and her aunt and she certainly stick together. You have only to compare it to a near contemporary play, say by Arthur Murphy, The Way to Keep Him to see how more genuine and less implicitly adversarial of women this play is. I say nothing of the early cruelties and brutalities of Cibber’s The Carless Husband which can stand as on the opposite end of the 18th century continuum.

The Clandestine Marriage is a real rare treat. It’s vastly superior to She Stoops to Conquer & both Sheridan comedies commonly done (The Rival & School for Scandal) in depth of emotion. Colman and Garrick are not Vanburgh, but their play is in the mode of Vanbrugh’s The Provok’d Wife & parts of the The Provok’d Husband (a collaboration with Cibber). Vanbrugh is better, but they go in the direction he took:

"LADY ARABELLA: I won’t come home till four to-morrow morning.

LORD LOVERULE: I’ll order the doors to be locked at twelve.

LADY ARABELLA: Then I won’t come home till to-morrow night.

LORD LOVERULE: Then you shall never come home again, Madam."
—- Vanbrugh, A Journey to London

And in the hall of the Folger Library there’s a good exhibit of their Garrick materials. The library is very rich in these as Garrick was so central in creating the cult of Shakespeare. Interesting books, playbills, paraphernalia, good paintings too.

And some very good books in the bookshop. I see it’s improved again: on Garrick, on opera, on the 18th century stage.


Posted by: Ellen

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