Reviewed by: Dale Reynolds
In Antaeus’ recent re-discovery of semi-lost plays, DIANA OF DOBSON’S the director, Casey Stangl, has partner-cast it with great aplomb. Written in 1908, in England, playwright Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952), a confirmed feminist and suffragette in her day, makes her political and social points about the problems in British society when the über-rich were able to condescend to those under them, especially women (and men) in low-paying jobs.
Here, Miss Diana Massingbred (Abigail Marks), a highly sensitive worker in Dobson’s Department Store in London (in the ladies’ corset department), who can barely survive on the pittance the rich owners pay their female workers. She dreams of better times that clearly can never be hers, until…..a surprise inheritance of the princely sum of £300 lets her quit her job in a furious and amusing way, telling the other women in their dormitory-setting what she will spend it on: oh, no, not savings or investments, nothing sensible such as that!, but splurging on clothes from Paris and a couple of weeks in a high-end Swiss resort under a magnificent snow-capped mountain.
There she meets some richly-paid capitalists, wowing them in the process of being herself, but under the rubric of being a wealthy widow of some industrialist in England. Her self-confidence informs her lie and has a couple of the wealthy bachelors begging for her hand in marriage by the end of her vacation.
But being an intelligent, sensible woman – and having run out of her cash – she flees back to a serious life-of-poverty in London. Ah, but then fate catches up with our socialist heroine, giving her a better life. Who’d’a thunk?!
Hamilton’s social comedy, one of a series of left-wing plays that attracted George Bernard Shaw’s attention, improbable as it seems to us now, has been given a spritely production at Antaeus. Ms. Stangl has cast it well, with Marks brightly and loudly making her mark in this comedy. Her would-be life-partners, industrialist Sir Jabez Grinley (Tony Amendola) and idle born-to-wealth layabout, Victor Bretherton (John Bobek), give us commendable characterizations, as does Rhonda Aldrich in two widely-divergent roles as the grim watchdog of the store and as the fabulously rich aunt of Victor, Lady Cantellup.
The balance of the cast, including Ben Atkinson as a kindly London Bobby and as a snooty French waiter , and Elyse Mirto as another wealthy matron and, later, a smart and dying elderly woman. Others in the cast: Desirée Mee Jung, Erin Barnes, Kendra Chell and Mazzlyn K. Luckett are the work-mates of our Diana, with each and every one of them making the most of their characters, as is per Antaeus’ gift to us every time.
However, if there is any fly-in-the-ointment, it’s the tendency in this small and intimate 99-seat space, for the actors to, if not bellow exactly, project too loudly. It seems odd for anyone not to have noticed it. But the settings by Nina Caussa are well-executed, as indeed, are the exacting costumes of Jeffrey Schoenberg.
This is a curious museum-piece that still speaks to us in these unsettling times for democracies around the world, as well as for the continued growth of the woman’s movement. Definitely worth seeing.
“Diana of Dobson’s” closes this June 3rd at the Antaeus Theatre, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205. Tickets: 818.506.1983 or at www.Antaeus.org.