Corsets, swords, musicality and betrayal will transform the Martel Theater into a decadent Elizabethan stage for the Drama Department’s fall production, The Way of the World. The show will premiere on Nov. 14 at 8:00 p.m., with additional performances on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 16 at 8:00 p.m.
The Way of the World, penned in 1700 by playwright William Congreve, explores the complicated domain of the upper-class English courtship. Considered one of the finest examples of Restoration Comedy, a genre typified by comedies written during the Restoration Period in England from 1660–1710, it is seen as an unusual and ambitious choice for the Drama Department.
“This play is now considered one of the masterpieces of the Restoration Comedy genre, yet it is rarely produced, in part because of its size and in part because of its complexity of plot. The language is exquisite, it is elevated, musical, witty, some would say operatic, it is neither a farce nor entirely a satire,” wrote Guest Director Kim Weild in an emailed statement. “I think there is great merit in working on plays that upon first reading completely terrify you, plays that you know will challenge and stretch you and demand everything you have to give.”
Weild is a director based in New York City and has worked in prestigious theaters, such as the Lincoln Center Theater, Carnegie Hall, New York Theater Workshop and the Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center. She is on the faculty of the National Theater Institute. At the institute, she worked with several Vassar students before beginning this production.
Weild is renowned for her innovative stagings and bold theatrical investigations. Thus, she chose to convey The Way of the World in a style that challenges the cast and audience.
“We made the choice to do ‘full on Restoration Comedy’ knowing that this would be the more challenging, more radical choice,” she wrote. “Doing a modern concept/adaptation would have been easier for all of us and probably easier for the audience—they wouldn’t necessarily have to engage their minds in the same way to make the connections today. I thought let’s give the students the terrific challenge of having to have to understand what it means to investigate this period, to go as deeply as possible into it, to perform in corsets, wearing swords, learning the language of the fan, men negotiating heels, powdered faces, wigs and all engaged in the verbal violence of articulation.”
Nora Kaye ’16, who plays Lady Wishfort, a wealthy widow desperately seeking a husband, spoke to the trials the cast has faced to put up an Elizabethan Restoration play.
“I have found this process very challenging and extremely exciting. Although the language is wonderfully musical it doesn’t roll off my tongue. More than half of the cast had to learn to act in corsets—not easy let me tell you!” she wrote in an emailed statement. “And we had to submerge ourselves in a society where status and decorum dictate. However, all of these challenges really pushed the cast to commit to the ways of this world.”
The play represents two classes: the aristocracy and the servitude. The show includes a surprise guest artist, three dancers and a violinist, making the cast a full 20 people.
In addition, Weild worked to ensure that the stage itself has an Elizabethan flair.
“Additionally, the architecture of the theater of the 1700s was a big factor in how this play was originally staged,” Weild wrote. “We began there, to see if we could alter the Martel space and as such, that gesture has informed our staging.”
Sarah Traisman ’15, who plays Millamant, one of the two central lovers in the play, asserted that The Way of the World is unlike anything Vassar students have seen. “I think by seeing this show the Vassar community will be seeing something they’ve never seen before and might never have the opportunity to see again. This show completely transports you into a different time with the costumes, the music, the language—it truly is a piece of art,” she said. “She is also pretty radical for the time she lives in, for she values her independence greatly and visibly struggles between being with the man she loves and upholding her independence,” said Traisman. “Congreve wrote Millamant as an advocate for women’s rights and those values are very evident in her character.”
Like Kaye, Traisman is excited to put on a production in full Restoration, without any contemporary elements. “I think directors tend to shy away from doing period pieces in ‘full’ and often attempt to put a modern twist on them—which has its merit—but I think by doing Way of the World in ‘full Restoration’ we are giving the audience something delicious,” Traisman added.
Weild stated that she has enjoyed this challenging work and collaborating with Vassar students to bring the decorous Elizabethan courtship to life. “I have been told that this very well may be the most ambitious production Vassar College has ever endeavored to make, and it is an honor and a privilege that they have entrusted me to be at the helm,” said Weild.