For a short period of time a canny observer will ﬁnd a time traveller’s portal on the south side of West 22nd Street. The price of a ticket for the Irish Rep’s London Assurance puts you smack in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Revivals of nineteenth-century comedies probably struggle for an audience. If you read “farce” and walk in to London Assurance looking for The Play That Goes Wrong, you will be disappointed. This period piece is charming and fun. Just saying you should know what you are in for.
Written in 1841, this drawing-room farce relies on the conventions of the time. The characters are broadly drawn — the smart young woman who knows her worth, the “gentleman” who is vanity on legs, the vaudevillian villain, the charming opportunist, the befuddled old man — well, you get the idea. The plot relies on conventional wisdom of the time that women are chattels, that celebrity is signiﬁcant, and that gentility comes with the country house one inherits. Owning another time-worn convention, playwright Dion Boucicault’s servants are the fun-loving, clever observers of their “betters.”
The eleven players all but devour Irish Rep’s modest stage. Charlotte Moore, a founder of IRT, directs. She uses every centimeter of space and milks every eyeball roll and ﬂounce from the script. So much of London Assurance relies on broad takes and facial expressions that it works especially well in this small scale room. Caroline Strang who plays Grace is especially adept at engaging the audience with a frown or a smirk. You always know what she is thinking. Colin McPhillamy, one of a handful of actual Brits in the production, brings all the august pretentiousness to the foppish Sir Harcourt Courtly, as could be done. He plays it all for fun even launching his considerable girth in surprising leaps that recall a vaudevillian’s trick. Craig Wesley Divino’s smarmy ﬂimﬂam man works with great physicality (not surprising as he is also a ﬁght coach). One wonders if his accent falters to signal he’s not what he’s pretending to be. There are amusing and less than subtle gay references. Lady Gay Spanker, with her crop in hand, leaps to mind. London Assurance is charming and small; think of it a quiet evening’s visit to another time.
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)
"When Dion Boucicault wrote his 1841 play, “London Assurance,” he called it a “modern comedy.” But its form, which owes a debt to 18th-century comedies of manners, was deliberately regressive, its plot as familiar and creaky as a horse-drawn wagon. Even in the early Victorian era, this mild romp was an antique. The Irish Repertory Theater's current revival, however deft and cheerful, does not increase its value."
Alexis Soloski for New York Times