Imagine a scrumptious high tea complete with scones and strawberries and cream served with a bowl of lima beans. It certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, but a light frothy repast augmented with some down to earth substance just might work for many. Taproots’ Diana of Dobson’s mixes a whimsical 1908 British drawing-room romantic comedy with a dash of socio-economic commentary, making for a unique evening of theater in Greenwood.
Playwright Cicely Hamilton’s take on class inequality got the jump on George Bernard Shaw here; his Pygmalion covered a great deal of the same ground, but came five years after Diana of Dobson’s premiere. Vassar College graduate Helen Harvester returns to the Taproots’ stage assuming the title role. Her spirited work is the lynchpin of the production. Diana works 14 hours a day as a London shop girl in hosiery; Dobson’s pays her “five bob a week.” Her dormitory, shared with her Dobson’s co-workers, is set like an adult version of Annie’s orphanage. Here Diana complains about her “starvation salary.” Our nation’s recent debates over minimum wage must have occurred to more than one of the opening night audience.
Early in Act One, Diana receives a 300-pound inheritance from a far distant relative’s estate. She is determined to have a go at living the high life for as far as her money will take her.
It happens to take her to Switzerland, where she and the audience are thrown into an entirely different setting. Kudos to the cast that performed a crisp and efficient scene change that garnered its own round of applause! In a posh mountain hotel we meet the “ornamental class”, with concerns far removed from the backrooms of Dobson’s. Playwright Hamilton has fun with some dramatic irony, as she has Diana choosing to “sail under false colors” and not reveal her less than acceptable social ranking.
Jeff Berryman is Sir Jabez Grinley, the 1908 version of the greedy and removed “one percent.” Llysa Holland has a lot of fun with her take on Mrs. Cantelupe, the wise matron of the scene, doing her best to pull the right strings at the right time. Victor, played by Ian Bond, plays Diana’s love interest and dangles at the end of one of these strings.
The play rolls merrily along, complete with all the misunderstandings and confusion this typical romantic comedy set- up can generate. It is not until the quite touching final scene, back in London on the Thames Embankment, that the ramifications of who Diana is and what she has done come more sharply into focus. The play abandons the lighter tone it had established and effectively comments on the harsh consequences of having such a wide discrepancy between the haves and the have nots. The play does not provide many solutions, but successfully serves a lot of “food for thought.”
Karen Lund directs the production and keeps the dialogue-heavy show moving briskly along. Sarah Burch Gordon is responsible for the gorgeous turn of the century costumes. Kayla Walker is the dialect coach, ensuring that the British and Scottish accents are up to snuff.
Diana of Dobson’s runs through June 14 at the Taproot Theatre, 208 N 85th Street, in the heart of Greenwood. Tickets at 206-781-9707 or online at www.taproottheatre.org.