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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 11.20.08




Of Fakes, Frauds, Marriage and Murder

In the Leebrick’s lagniappe lurk lightness and laughter

by Suzi Steffen

Relax into the ridiculous. With economic news straining emotions on the outside, West Moon Street, a farce at the Lord Leebrick, makes for a pleasant diversion. 

Sylvia (Sarah Adler), Lord Arthur (Ian Armstrong), Lady Windemere (Rebecca Nachison) and Charles (Larry Brown). Photo Gretchen Drew

No, it’s not quite meaningful, and the second act doesn’t hold up well (pacing may improve as the play continues its run), but so what? When the outside world turns grim, communal laughter provides warmth: Opening weekend sold out. 

The script, adapted and revised by UO alum Rob Urbinati from an Oscar Wilde short story, hints at larger issues while capturing Wilde’s offhand tone. Some actors play this humor with uncanny apititude — Rebecca Nachison stands out as the arch Lady Windemere — while a few others need to work on capturing the spirit of the affair. Steen Mitchell’s gorgeous set and Sarah Gahagan’s nicely fussy costumes provide striking visuals as backdrops to the mostly capable cast.

The larger issues remain submerged but clear. In Wilde’s story and in Urbinati’s play, the main character must commit murder in order to deal with marriage. As those in committed relationships know, most humans require a kind of self-maiming, a lopping off of personality, to please partners (or society). Oscar Wilde certainly understood that. In West Moon Street, murder becomes an external task on the long checklist that precedes a wedding.

Then there’s the issue of spiritualism. In the late 19th century, depicted here, palm-readers (Daniel Borson as Mr. Podgers) and other snake-oil peddlers fooled wealthy Victorians out of their money, and sometimes, out of their minds. The Oxford-educated Lord Arthur, whom the voraciously queeny Lady Windemere desires for her collection of lovers, enlists his butler (Larry Brown) for aid in following Podgers’ prophecy: Lord Arthur must commit murder before he may marry.

When his elderly relative Lady Clem (Laura Robinson-Thomas) dies of natural causes instead of the poison he tries to administer, Lord Arthur postpones his nuptials with Sybil Merton (the focused Sarah Adler). A subplot involving anarchist Herr Winkelkopf (Greg Gumbs, amusing even as he wanders between accents) and archbishop’s daughter Jane Percy (Zoe Grobart) needs tighter pacing at its denouement, as does much of the second act. Yet eventually, the deed is done — and delicious deceits are revealed. 

Coherent West Moon Street is not, but those looking for laughs will want to see Nachison, Grobart and Robinson-Thomas strut their stuff on the silly, pretty stage.          

West Moon Street runs through Dec. 6 at the Lord Leebrick Theatre. Tix at www.lordleebrick.com or 465-1506.