‘The Way of the World’

Shakespeare ’70 tackles this 1700 comedy of manners by William Congreve.

By: Matt Smith
   Trenton-based Shakespeare ’70 is the area’s only (mostly) classical theater company. Led by Dr. John F. Erath, English professor emeritus at The College of New Jersey, the troupe shows a logical reverence for the Bard and his contemporaries.
   Shakespeare ’70 tackles the likes of Macbeth and Richard III at the Open Air Theatre in Washington Crossing State Park in summer, then moves indoors to the Studio Theater at TCNJ in fall and winter to perform George Bernard Shaw, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Oscar Wilde, to name a few. The company is currently offering a solid reading of William Congreve’s 1700 comedy of manners, The Way of the World.
   Like the work of Moliére or Sheridan, this Restoration play is a relatively frothy, lighthearted undertaking. Edward Mirabell is a man of many "affairs" and has his sights set on Mrs. Millamant. Her aunt, Lady Wishfort, doesn’t approve, so Mirabell puts a plan in motion to gain the upper hand on the confused old matron. The scheming Fainall, who married Lady Wishfort’s daughter to cover up her affair with Mirabell, schemes to take his wife’s inheritance with the aid of his lover, Mrs. Marwood, whose advances were rebuffed by Mirabell. Add to the mix a pair of faux suitors (Witwoud and Petulant), Lady Wishfort’s coarse country nephew (Sir Wilful Witwoud) and a pair of conspiring servants (Waitwell and Foible).
   The cast of Shakespeare ’70 veterans is mostly successful with the 300-year-old material, although some of the period-specific wit misses its mark. Kurt Penney plays Mirabell as withdrawn and almost maudlin, whereas a bit more bravado might suit. Carol Kehoe is a pleasantly ditzy, demanding Millamant, emphasizing her zingers with a jab of her fan. Kay Schwinn Potucek is a standout as Lady Wishfort, her face caked in makeup and her head constantly spinning in confusion. Rupert Hinton has fun as the morally bankrupt Fainall (and, a Brit by birth, has the best accent). Carol Thompson projects an in-control warmth as Mrs. Fainall, while Janet Quartarone gives Mrs. Marwood a delicious sneer.
   As Witwoud and Petulant, Tom Curbishley and Curt Foxworth (in particular) get laughs for their flamboyance but miss a few as they race through their lines. Dale Simon paints broadly hilarious strokes as the uncouth Sir Wilful Witwoud. George Hartpence and Melissa Evans cavort as the amorous servants Waitwell and Foible.
   Dr. Erath directs with an appreciation for the language that sends the evening past the three-hour mark. The set, also by Dale Simon, is elegantly simple — a map of the world painted on the stage, bookended by two frequently slammed doors. Scaramouche of Bethlehem, Pa., provides the costumes.
   More than half of the opening-night audience was TCNJ students, furiously taking notes, with at least one reading along from her copy of the play. It was, after all, an academic evening.
The Way of the World continues at the Studio Theater, The College of New Jersey, Route 31, Ewing, through Feb. 22. Performances: Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Tickets cost $12, $10 groups/seniors/TCNJ faculty and staff, $6 students. For information, call (609) 882-5979. On the Web: www.shakespeare70.org