Way of the the Words
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Way of the the Words

The Way of the World is a comedy, but it’s also a difficult play, with a complicated plot, a lot of characters, and stories within stories involving finance and property. It takes deft direction and clear exposition to move past the details of William Congreve’s 1700 work without getting bogged down. The current Soulpepper/National Arts Centre co-production playing at the Young Centre is only partly successful in untangling the knotty details; while there are impressive performances by a stellar ensemble cast, the sum is never greater than its parts. Chuckles, smirks, and guffaws aside, you might actually find yourself… bored.
In a nutshell, former man-about-town Mirabell wants to marry Millamant, who’s playing hard to get. In order to proceed with the nuptials, the couple needs the blessing of Millamant’s wealthy aunt, Lady Wishfort. Scheming, deception, and foolery ensue. Director Peter Hinton has opted to place The Way of the World in the 1950s, with mixed results. While it’s an intriguing idea (the 1950s being all about surface gloss concealing a nastier reality), the wigs, dresses, and hokey glasses all seem like so much for naught. It’s a great concept, but you wish Hinton had used the chosen time period more effectively. Pity, he seems more interested in having his cast “park and bark” (to use an operatic term) than in actually using the elements of theatre (including visual ones) as exposition. While it’s interesting to analyze the vagaries of relationships, power, and money (and the entanglements therein), Congreve still aimed to entertain his audience. Hinton might’ve forgotten that part, and provides little that might help those who forgot to read the Coles Notes version of the play before sitting down.
At least the performances are strong. Shaw veteran Mike Shara is a charming and acerbic Mirabell, while Caroline Cave, as Millamant, uses outward bitchiness to conceal a true inner mushmuffin. But it’s Tanja Jacobs, playing Lady Wishfort, who nearly steals the show, delivering a hilarious performance as the ultimate, and ultimately naïve, diva. Kudos to Soulpepper for providing an alternative to the frothy fare of Midsummer with another piece that makes you think. Still, clocking in at three hours, with one intermission, you wish Hinton had picked up the pace from Ottawa to Toronto. Maybe by August 2.
Photo by Oliver Domenchini.