by Ann Greer
The second Women’s Voices Theater Festival is taking place in 24 of the DC region’s theaters, through mid March. Its goal is to bring attention to new work by women playwrights.
The Folger Theatre, affiliated with the Folger Shakespeare Library, understandably produces mostly classic work, mostly written by men. For the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, the Folger is presenting “The Way of the World,” a new comedy adapted from the 1700 play of the same name by Englishman William Congreve. Playwright Theresa Rebeck has set her version in the New York summer society enclave of the Hamptons, where designer labels and lusty escapades are the order of the day.
Aunt Rene (Kristine Nielsen, left) tries her best to cheer up Mae (Eliza Huberth) at a Hamptons bistro.
While Congreve’s version has more characters and subplots, central in both plays is the heiress Mae/Millamant (Eliza Huberth). In Rebeck’s play, Mae’s desire is piqued first by sexy but penniless Henry/Mirabell (Luigi Sottile), then, to the consternation of her Hamptons cohorts, by using her money to do good. Meanwhile, Mae’s aunt Rene/Lady Wishfort (Kristine Nielson) is a 60-year-old looking for love, and also looking to keep Mae and Henry apart, or at least to protect her use of Mae’s fortune.
Heiress Mae (Eliza Huberth) waits to have her ex-boyfriend Henry (Luigi Sottile) removed from the party,
as guests Reg (Elan Zafir) and Charles (Brandon Espinoza, far right) look on.
“When I looked at Congreve’s play, its storyline and essence felt contemporary. Characters have ridiculous amounts of money, everything is transactional, and there is no moral center. It’s a little Kardashian, with the obsessive fascination about the hyper-rich,” Rebeck says.
Rene (Kristine Nielsen) is charmed by Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley) at an art exhibit in the Hamptons.
Both Congreve’s original play and Rebeck’s adaptation bitingly satirize the attitudes and amorous activities of the very wealthy. But Rebeck believes that her adaptation provides an inherent female perspective that gives the two central female characters, Mae and Rene, more complex motivations.
“It bothered me that in Congreve’s play these women accepted misogyny and had no interior lives,” says Rebeck. “Also I felt that the heiress needed more social awareness. In the original, the flirtatious older woman is made fun of and tricked. I decided to give her layers, make her aware of what’s going on and her own power. "
Rene (Kristine Nielsen) and her niece Mae (Eliza Huberth, right) find cause for great celebration.
Rebeck believes that she could not do otherwise, in this era of Me Too awareness.
She adds, “I didn’t set out to do a feminist version of ‘The Way of the World.’ Of course, when women are the creative consciousness, it looks different, it’s a different truth.”
“The Way of the World” plays through February 11, 2018, at Folger Theatre. Tickets: folger.edu/theatre or call 202-544-7077.
Photos by Teresa Wood.
Ann Greer has covered culture in the DC region for The Washington Post, Capitol File magazine, and WAMU-FM, among others. She was the first online theater critic in the DC region, for AOL Digital City Washington.