Theater Review: "Wives & Wits" at Washington Stage Guild

Two one-act plays by George Bernard Shaw explore the tricky nature of love and courtship.
Nick DePinto, Rana Kay, Dawn Thomas, and Michael Glenn in Overruled. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.
Nick DePinto, Rana Kay, Dawn Thomas, and Michael Glenn in Overruled. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.

The snooty guidebook writer and the prattling
shopgirl seated on the cruise ship deck next to each other couldn’t be
more
different–and Mr. Guidebook couldn’t be any more annoyed by his
shipmate’s relentless chatter. Naturally, they’re prime candidates
to eventually fall in love.

“Z” and “A”, as they’re called in the script, are the main foils featured in
Village Wooing, one of two one-act plays by George Bernard Shaw currently being staged by Washington Stage Guild, the city’s Shaw tribute
band, if you will. The company has paired
Wooing with the campy
Overruled, with a different director taking the helm for each play.

Village Wooing is the more substantive of the two
works, and while its “opposites attract” motif might sound like a
romantic-comedy cliché,
the play succeeds because the pair’s relationship evolves
convincingly, if rapidly. The audience transitions from seeing Z
(Rana Kay) as exasperating and annoying (she really won’t let up on A, who’s in full workaholic mode on the cruise) to irresistibly
charming. Likewise, it takes a while to see the prickly A (Michael Glenn)–who at times feels like the
long-lost, slightly-less-pratty cousin of Shaw’s iconic Henry
Higgins–through Z’s more appreciative
eyes.

Kay and Glenn, for their part, have a crackling
chemistry that’s as palpable when they’re at each others’ throats as it
is
when they’re warming to each others’ charms. Shaw’s play
stretches out the courtship a bit far in the third scene, but director
Laura Giannarelli does her best to keep things well paced.

While the direction of
Village Wooing is pretty straightforward,
Overruled, which starts off the show, is presented in more of an over-the-top fashion. Director
Alan Wade treats the play as a borderline farce, and as a result it takes a few minutes to settle into the performers’ rhythm.
Overruled finds Gregory (Nick DePinto) propositioning a Mrs. Juno (Kay
again), and it’s clear early on that someone’s being salacious, but it
takes a while to
unravel the intricacies of who’s married, who’s interested, and
what’s going to come of all the posturing–particularly when
another would-be couple, Sibthorpe (Glenn) and Mrs. Lunn (Dawn Thomas), arrive on the scene.

Overruled‘s premise might wear thin over an hour if
not for Shaw’s witty wordplay, which provides quite a few laugh-out-loud
moments.
“Our house is always full of women who are in love with my
husband and men who are in love with me,” says the arch Mrs. Lunn.
“We encourage it because it’s pleasant to have company.” Thomas
gives Mrs. Lunn a detached, world-weary air, which contrasts
nicely with the excitable and persistent Sibthorpe, the
character through whom Shaw gamely mocks stereotypical British
sensibilities.
DePinto is just self-aware enough to save Gregory, a foppish
mama’s boy, from ridiculousness. All in all, both
Overruled and
Village Wooing ably demonstrate courtship as a kind of dance, and both directors prove to be able choreographers.

Wives & Wits
runs through May 20 at the Undercroft Theatre. Tickets ($20
to $40) are available through the Stage Guild’s
website.

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