England adheres to an antic tradition of holiday theater that New York never has managed to adopt. We should count ourselves lucky if the Flea Theater production of Amy Freed’s Restoration Comedy pulls London practice west.
If you go to a single play before yearend, go to this one, because you would need to be dead not to like it. The production combines two baroque comedies interlinked in their day, by Colley Cibber and his friend the polymath Vanbrugh, and adds to the trove of evidence that our lubricious contemporary culture has nothing on theirs. Each effort was the author’s first play and it shows: A precocious energy rules the stage.
The Bats, the resident rep at the Flea, make a suitably kinetic crew for this kind of thing. Young and athletic, talented, fiendishly funny and friendly to boot; it is hard to remember that each of them works for free. The flexibility of the Flea’s black box enables the director to push his cast through the audience and increase the considerable chaos that engulfs the theater.
That begins before the play proper, when the costumed cast plies its patrons with good strong punch, inveigling small talk and prancing about to live baroque violin pieces and booming Scissor Sisters slang. As an unnecessary but most welcome bonus they return at intermission with trays of Sino-Portuguese snacks from the estimable Macau Trading Co., proof that the imperial interchange was not all bad.
Plots are not for parsing here, because they are risibly predictable and too much fun to reveal. The production itself is a bubbly gas. The boundary between postmodern drag queen and Restoration fop is but a blur, and the costume designer for Restoration Comedy has seized the connection to throw a Carnivale palette into this riotous show. It is as if the Hellfire Club hosted RuPaul for a night. Pole dancing and minuets, strippers and square dancing mesh to form a bizarrely cohesive presentation of depraved delight.
Cap the night around the corner at South’s, where you can hoist a pint of IPA with the winsome cast and stay up late. This, after all, is New York.
By Amy Freed
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
The Flea Theatre
Through Dec. 31 at 6:30PM
Call 212-352-3101 or visit www.theflea.org for tickets and info.