Vanity Fair a brilliant, farcical , must see at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre

(L-R) Anthony Michael Lopez, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Adam Magill, Dan Hiatt, Maribel Martinez, Vincent Randazzo, Rebekah Brockman in “Vanity Fair” at the A.C.T. Geary Theater April25, 2019

VANITY FAIR: Comedy by Kate Hamill. Adapted from William Makepeace Thackery’s 1840’s “Vanity Fair.” Directed by Jessica Stone. American Conservatory Theatre, A.C.T.’s Geary Theater (415 Geary St., San Francisco). 415.749.2228 or www.act-sf.org

April 17­–May 12, 2019.

Vanity Fair a brilliant, farcical , must see at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre. Rating: ★★★★★

William Makepeace Thackery’s 1840’s serial “Vanity Fair” eventually ended up in book form. It skewers Victorian Society and made the name Becky Sharp a household word.  In the many modern adaptations the emphasis on her burning desire and machinations allow the reader to have ambivalent feelings about her character. In Kate Hamill’s theatrical adaptation now receiving a spirit farcical staging at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre your opinion of her driving force remains ambivalent and does not reflect the #METOO movement that is shaking up the political landscape but certainly is very derivative of today’s world.

The decision to set the action of the play in a Victorian Musical hall allows Hamill to create a narrator (Dan Hiatt) to comment on morality with asides to the audience and keep the play paced as a farce. The cast and set have been brought intact from the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington where it earned rave reviews. Dan Hiatt leads the seven member cast in a tuxedo and top hat and even has a ribald turn on stage as Miss Matilda Crawley whose money is pivotal to the life of her nephew Rawdon whom Becky has snared into marriage.  

It all starts with a rowdy musical introduction by the entire cast who individually play multiple roles with deft but intentionally clumsy changes of costumes. They are aided by puppets and fancy dressed cardboard cutouts when crowd scenes are needed.  This hectic ensemble action makes sense since it clouds our eventual judgment of Becky’s unmitigated drive to money and social status. The narrator semi-defends Becky’s drive and asks us to be kind in our evaluation. Author Hamill is not about to accept criticism of Becky (Rebekah Brockman) and Amelia Sedley (Maribel Martinez) giving them dialog that they deliver directly to the audience. Before that happens in the second act we are “treated” to Becky’s not too subtle shenanigans.

The story starts when the music ends. Becky has spent unhappy years as a charity student in a girl’s finishing school giving her the only option for livelihood is to become a governess. She leaves with her best friend Amelia who introduces her to her rich family. Becky’s first attempt up the social ladder is an unsuccessful seduction of Amelia’s gauche and rich brother Jos  (Vincent Randazzo). On to the next rung up the ladder is her turn as a governess in the Sir Pitt Crawley household where resides an older son Rawdon (Adam Magill) whom she secretly marries to the consternation of his father who has desires for Becky. Wrong move number two or is it three?

Meanwhile Amelia has fallen hopelessly in love with dashing and self-obsessed Captain George Osborne (Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan) whom she eventual marries against his father’s wishes. Another setback for Becky? No way, there are more escapades using her beauty and charms that eventually get her a brief visit with the King George.

Before that happens the Napoleonic War is briefly introduced. George and Rawdon go off to war and only Rawdon returns leaving widowed Amelia alone with a child. Unfortunately love does not conquer all and Amelia’s life is about to go down the tubes more than suggesting a weakness in women. Hamill is not about to allow that misogynistic thought go unanswered and inserts a confrontation scene between the unworldly Amelia and Becky staged as a boxing match with Hamill and director Jessica Stone not subtly demonstrating their physical strength of character.

Rebekah Brockman as Becky and Maribel Martinez as Amelia are both beautiful and petite yet project strength. Dan Hiatt has a hilarious turn as the doddering Miss Matilda Crawley even when she is flatulent.  Vincent Randazzo steals a number of scenes when his diverse characters shift from bumbling to lecherous. Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan takes on her roles as men convincingly.  Local heartthrob Adam Magill as Rawdon adds another star to his CV with this performance.

Alexander Dodge’s brilliant scenic design is perfect for an ensemble production that requires quick changes to keep the multiple scenes fluid. He uses backdrops that quickly changed to indicate specific locales and not interfering with the stage action while keeping the cast busy moving furniture on and off stage without missing a line. Stone utilizes that mobility to keep this sprawling epic running smoothly and mentally shortens the two hour and 30 minute running time (Including two intermission) keeping the audience glued to their seats. Stone is to be admired for  the brilliance to allow the marvelous costume and wig changes that make no pretense of being real with shawls thrown haphazardly and the wigs often askew.

CAST (in alphabetical order): Rebekah Brockman, Dan Hiatt, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Anthony Michael Lopez, Adam Magill, Maribel Martinez, and Vincent Randazzo.

CREATIVE TEAM: Alexander Dodge (Scenic Designer), Jennifer Moeller (Costume Designer), David Weiner (Lighting Designer), Jane Shaw (Sound Designer and Original Music), and Connor Gallagher (Choreographer).

Kedar Adour, MD

Photos:  https://bit.ly/2Xo8AdT.  

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.