By Adaire Kamen; Directed by Jose Gamo
Produced by The Schober Group
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.26.16
VENUE #3: Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Mackenzie Cash on 8.22.16
Natalia Dyer and Mia Hutchinson-Shaw in The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham.
BOTTOM LINE: The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham, Ladies of Society is a Victorian dramatic comedy that explores the dark and complex elements of female sexuality and sibling rivalries in upper-class society.
The Cheatham sisters are young, beautiful, and recently engaged members of an elite, upper-crust English society. Everything seems to be falling into place to allow them to keep living their privileged and posh lifestyle until scandal and betrayal threatens to ruin them.
George Cheatham (Rob Skolits) thought he had raised two upstanding, albeit very different, daughters. Frances (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw) is the strong-willed, independent daughter on the road to spinsterdom, while Meg (Stranger Thing's Natalia Dyer) is all rules and proper behavior. Meg's life seems set. She's engaged to her childhood best friend, played spectacularly by Evan Sibley, and despite signs of hysteria and anxiety, is poised for a happy life. Frances is engaged to one of society's most powerful businessmen, Alexander (Bill Morton). That is, until Jack (Taylor Alan) comes along and reminds her that she can have it all—wealth and adventure.
There are moments of tenderness as Victorian courtships play out on stage, from the embarrassed glances of lovers who lose control and kiss passionately, to the innocuous act of removing one's shawl being made sexual and intimate. Yet as the play progresses and tensions heat up, accents fade away and the language shifts from aristocratic Victorian dialects to voices you'd hear outside the NY venue. It's an interesting decision, to lose the structure of Victorian language, and while it could transport the antiquated ideas of feminine ownership to our modern-day, not-quite-so feminist society, the contrast is instead very abrupt and unexpected.
Likewise the set (perhaps understandably given the limits of the festival) also lacks the Victorian sense of grandeur. The stage is sparse, sheer fabric composing the many doors and passages of the Cheatham home, inviting the audience to imagine corridors and chambers of elegance and wealth as the male characters wander upon it, wheeling and dealing for the virtue of the Cheatham sisters. This minimal design against the black walls of the stage creates an ominous appearance, as if from the moment the well-off sisters step onto the stage, something dark and sinister is brewing, both in their restrictive, patriarchal society and between the two of them. Frances wants control—control of her own body and her own decisions, even if that means tossing Meg aside to do so.
Dyer and Hutchinson-Shaw are captivating as siblings, portraying both admiration and annoyance in their sisterly affection. While the characters seem to represent two different kinds of femininity, the rebellious Frances leaves behind an unsympathetic trail. Hutchinson-Shaw's Frances is cold and shrewd, and though she has the potential to make for a strong-willed role model, her actions and her apathy for the consequences leave behind a broken and shattered Meg. It's hard to feel sympathy for the sister that wants everything but is willing to get it at the expense of the sister that only wants to be happy.
(The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham, Ladies Of Society plays at VENUE #3: Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, through August 26, 2016. The running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Performances are Sat 8/13 at 4:15; Tue 8/16 at 4:15; Sun 8/21 at 6:30; Wed 8/24 at 9:30; and Fri 8/26 at 9:30. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit intriguingengagements.com.)
The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham, Ladies Of Society is by Adair Kamen. Directed by Jose Gamo. Set Design is by Katherine Barton. Costume Design is by Nick Staigerwald. Lighting Design is by Alex deNevers. Sound Design is by Peyton Jamille. Stage Manager is Morgan Richardson. Production Manager is Andrew Goldberg. Producer is Lawrence Schober.
The cast is Natalia Dyer, Mia Hutchinson-Shaw, Evan Sibley, Taylor Alan, Rob Skolits, and Bill Morton.