Music, humor and dance all combine at the Saybrook Underbrook this weekend to form a story of love and passion in the Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s performance of “Iolanthe.” The comic opera, co-directed by Dylan Morris ’11 and Leah Libresco ’11, was first produced at the Savoy Theatre in London in 1882. True to its Victorian roots, it is a deceptively gentle comedy packed with a lot of subversive energy. It takes every opportunity to poke fun at the aristocracy and ruling class.
The play begins when the Fairy Queen (Rachel Barnas ’13) summons Iolanthe (Alexandra Viterbi ’14) back after 25 years of banishment because of the great love she has for her and the insistence of the other fairies. Iolanthe, an immortal fairy, had committed the sin of falling in love with a mortal human and had been expelled from the kingdom. Her son, Strephon (Moses Balian ’13), a half-fairy-half-human, is in love with Phyllis (Lauren Morgan ’13), ward of Lord Chancellor (Spencer Klavan ’13) and plans to marry her. Lord Chancellor, however, also has plans to marry his ward, as do half a dozen of his peers from the House of Lords. Thus begins a merry chase to wed the maiden which ends in harmony and love for all. Apart from the disdain for aristocracy, Ionanthe also packs a cleverly disguised streak of feminism which makes it an incisive political story that challenges the contemporary social norms. Libresco and Morris highlight the gendered confrontation between the intelligent female fairies and the inept male peers of the Realm through the choreography. At times, it looks like a fight for control between the two sexes, which makes it all the more interesting to watch.
Though a fairytale, “Iolanthe” is unable to cast a spell. The choreography is delightful, but is not performed with vigor. Although the music is cheerful, it is unable to tie the sequences into a coherent production because of the lackluster dance performances. Almost none of the fairies were successful in being enchanting, and most are reduced to hobbling on the stage. Libresco and Morris definitely benefited by utilizing a cast of a cappella singers, but few manage to shine beyond their songs. The play had a lot of physicality that was not executed with sufficient energy. The actors fail to dominate an empty stage with very few set pieces. Combined with the harsh lighting, the production leaves little room for fantasy. Klavan undoubtedly stole the show with his remarkable portrayal of Lord Chancellor, an enigmatic aristocrat. He manages to show the loneliness and intelligence behind his seemingly dumb facade while still retaining its humor. The other leads, particularly Viterbi and Balian, also gave strong performance.
What could have been a sizzling drama comes off as a lackluster production. But if you find British accents sexy, you may want to include the show in your Halloween itinerary.