Venus Observed, one of Christopher Fry's plays in verse, gets a generally well-directed, well-acted, well-worth-seeing staging as part of Boomerang Theatre Company's 2010 season.
In this 1950 gem, the Duke of Altair brings Rosabel, Jessie and Hilda—three of his ex-mistresses—to his home to observe a solar eclipse...and to choose one for his bride. Instead, he falls wholeheartedly in love with Perpetua, the entrancing young daughter of his affable (but dishonest) estate manager, Reedbeck. The duke's son, Edgar, falls for Perpetua as well...and so begins their troubles!
Ryan Lee has a style and comfort as the Duke that make him a joy to watch, and he manipulates the deceptively difficult verse with flowing grace and confident skill; indeed, the Duke is on stage for most of the two-plus hours of the play...and makes the most of every minute. Saluda Camp, as Perpetua, matches Lee point for point, in charm, charisma, and vocal dexterity. Her virtuosic somersaults of one particular speech—"the most marvelous sentence in English literature"—should be a lesson to any young classic stage actor. Also particularly excellent are Buzz Roddy as Reedbeck, Jason Loughlin as Edgar, and Kristen Vaughan as Hilda, as well as Spencer Aste and John Greenleaf as the Duke's domestics. Samantha Ives has some very lovely moments as Rosabel, and I greatly enjoyed Thea McCartan's performance as Jessie—although due to the complexity of the language coupled with a thick character accent and a high rate of speed, I missed quite a few of her lines. (McCartan earned a great deal of laughs, regardless!) Rounding out the cast is Paul Nugent as Dominic.
Cailin Heffernan's staging is clean and economical, assured and effective, and the production values are generally strong: Nikki Black's set, Cheryl McCarron's costumes, and Kia Rogers's lighting. Above all, Steven Jamail's original music and Jacob Subotnick's sound design add layers of beauty and depth to the production.
At two hours and twenty minutes, Venus Observed sometimes felt too long, yet the production kept my attention—especially when Lee and Camp were on stage. While not without some flaws, Fry's rumination on love and loyalties makes for a strong, funny, enjoyable evening of theatre.