Play: The Romantic Age
Group: Act Inc.
Venue: Fontbonne University Fine Arts theater, Big Bend at Wydown
Dates: June 28, 29
Tickets: $18 and $20; contact 314-725-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Story: The lives of the idle rich are on full display in this three-act work by noted author A.A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame. It’s a June evening in the 1920s, and the Knowles are gathered in the family home enjoying the “mid summer night.” While Mr. Knowle wiles away the hours with his ever-present yo-yo, Mrs. Knowle is guided by a persistent determination to see her budding young daughter, Melisande, married off before she hits the ripe old age of 20.
Mrs. Knowle continues to push the successful but bumbling stockbroker Bobby upon Melisande. The latter will have no part of that, though, since she is in love with the romantic notion of her own Prince Charming carrying her away from her mundane reality. While Melisande’s dutiful cousin, Jane, secretly yearns for Bobby, the haughty Melisande falls in love with the magical notion of her prince, who shows up at the house unexpectedly in the guise of a neighbor whose car has run out of petrol while he is en route to a costume party dressed as none other than Prince Charming. With the help of a peculiar traveling salesman, the neighbor, Gervase, plots to marry Melisande even after she learns who he really is.
Highlights: Act Inc. has been uncovering lost works of days gone by throughout its 28-year history. While many of these efforts offer opportunities to regale audiences with hidden charms, others can reveal why they might have been lost or forgotten. Such is the case with Milne’s The Romantic Age, one of more than 30 plays he wrote and published in 1920, years before Winnie-the-Pooh made his mark on literature.
Director Rob Grumich pays painstaking homage to playwright Milne, and has assembled a talented cast that guides us through the three acts of the work. Most impressive are Amanda Williford and Amy Schwarz as the beautiful but shallow Melisande and her devoted and sweet cousin Jane, respectively. Each actress immerses herself convincingly and delightfully into her role, as does Teresa Doggett, who comically captures the bluster and false bravado of Mrs. Knowle.
Other Info: Mark Abels pleasantly depicts the low-key demeanor of Mr. Knowle, while Kris Ramsey is amusing as the affable if clumsy Bobby. Charlie Barron brings a winning touch to the role of the directionally challenged neighbor, doing what he can with the stilted relationship between Gervase and Melisande. Dorothy Farmer Davis has a small part as the family’s dutiful maid, young Dillon Sansone has fun as a mysterious lad who meets Gervase in the forest and George Wiseheart plays a traveling salesman whose glass is always half full, and who educates Gervase about the joys of marriage in an excruciatingly long second act that bridges two acts set in the Knowle home.
The Romantic Age seems somewhat childish and awkward, so much so that its charms cannot compensate for the peculiarity of its viewpoint. Milne’s notions of romance are contrasted ironically and purposefully with Melisande’s self-centered notions, but the instant fervor of Bobby and Gervase for their ladies still requires too much of a stretch, even for theater. Additionally, the second act could easily be cut in half to offset the boredom it engenders. And a scene where Mr. Knowle and Gervase share drinks and cigarettes can certainly drop the smoking without affecting the show one bit and improve the theater’s air considerably.
Grumich utilizes the whimsical support of costume designers Jane Sullivan and Marilyn Brooking and lighting designer Michael Sullivan. On the other hand, scenic designer Tim Poertner’s set of a table and chairs, love seat and divan really is not well served in the theater-in-the-round setting. Over all, The Romantic Age is an uneven time.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.