Corrections or additions?

This review by Joan Crespi was prepared for the November 24,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: George Street’s ‘Celadine’

‘Celadine." Who? What? This curious and provocative title is the name

of the new play, a world premier, by Charles Evered now running at the

George Street Playhouse until Sunday, December 12. Directed by David

Saint at a fast pace, the play stars acclaimed actress Amy Irving who

plays the title role. This is Evered’s third play in his trilogy of

plays about spies and spying. Before the play and between its two acts

is music of the time, mostly from Henry Purcell

The five-character play, a historical comedy of romantic liaisons,

past and then-present, concerns Celadine, a beautiful playwright/spy

living in London during the reign of Charles II, which began in 1660.

This may seem a strange linking of careers, but it happened. Celadine

is a fictionalized contemporary of the real Aphra Behn, the first

professional female English author and the obvious inspiration for

"Celadine." Behn was a playwright, her plays full of bawdy humor, and

an English spy during the Dutch Wars of 1665-’67. In a nice twist Behn

is mentioned in "Celadine" as a rival, contemporary playwright.

"Celadine" is set in the 1670s, during the Restoration. The period is

known for its frivolity and licentiousness after the Puritan austerity

of 11 years. The time saw religious unrest between Anglicans,

Catholics, and dissenters. The Great Plague of 1665 and the fire of

1666 were just a few years before and all are referred to in the play.

The second Dutch War was ongoing and is marked by a reference and then

background cannon bursts from the Dutch invasion. It also provides the

background and necessity for Celadine’s having to spy. (What is the

motivation for her spying? That’s not clear. Perhaps she has some need

associated with the picture on the wall?)

Celadine is not living in the court of Charles II. She lives with her

best friend, Mary (Leslie Lyles), in Teale Coffee House, London. Mary,

whom Celadine has rescued, is lower class (with a heavy accent),

obeisant, once a whore, and not apprised of Celadine’s main secret.

The fine set, (designed by Michael Anania,) is the large room of the

coffee house. (Is it a blind? A spy’s hideout away from the court? It

never has any customers.) The 17th century room with balcony is

precisely furnished with small wood tables, stools, wall-hung copper

pots, pewter mugs, candles, and dominating the room, a large stone

floor-to-ceiling fireplace. An oval portrait of a young girl, staring

and sullen, blue-eyed, with faint blonde curls, hangs over the wooden

mantle. At the play’s opening, both Celadine and Mary are sorrowfully

remembering the laughter of the little child lost at sea.

The portrait, which is of Celadine’s child, will underlie much of the

plot, then figure significantly to tie up the play. Is it too

insignificant to bear the weight of the plot, the double identities of

Celadine?

Everett, the author of last season’s spy thriller "Wilderness of

Mirrors," saw Irving when she appeared in a 10-minute play of his in

2002. He was so "taken with her beauty and her performance" (U.S. 1,

November 17) that he invited her to give her opinions about the play

he was working on and actually wrote the role of "Celadine" for her.

Irving calls it a "dream role" for a woman. It’s different from her

previous roles, she says, and allows her to display a new kind of

sexuality.

One of the most hilarious of these is a prolonged moment when, seated,

she instructs the mute, Jeffrey (Rob Eigenbrod), hitherto a willing

steed, to crawl under her voluminous skirt and mend her underdrawers.

The hump provides a sight gag while the verbal repartee is delivered

with casual, insouciant detachment. (The sexual innuendo is evident:

Celadine says, "I have not had this done to me in such a long time"

and "Finish me off.")

We’re told almost immediately that Celadine is a playwright. A

purported actor, Elliot, (Matt Pepper) enters, strutting, flourishing

his cape. He says he has money. "Then you can’t be an actor." Celadine

observes. He commissions Celadine to write a play for him.

Throughout the repartee is clever, ribald, riotous, often sexual. All

of the acting is superb. The costumes (David Murin is costume

designer) go from precise to exquisite. Celadine’s splendid long

wide-shirted dresses with upper breast bared, her wig of long golden

curls, added to Irving’s own natural beauty, keep eyes fixed in her.

The wigs (that’s plural: we won’t say why) by Paul Huntley Ltd. are

thick with cascades of ringlets and are laughably gorgeous.

Not only are Celadine’s dresses stunning, all of the costumes are

striking. Though obviously shabby, Rowley (Michael Countryman) looks

appropriately ragged in detail. We know that he is Celadine’s

womanizing former lover. We might suspect that he is other than what

he seems when he warns Celadine that, in the act of spying,"You were

seen at Westminster" and that "the Dutch invasion is due any day." He

knows too much for a humble peasant.

The plot might seem to be slow to start, but it all comes together in

the second act. As the play moves, the lines and actions keep the

audience laughing while the intrigue casts mystery and fear of

Celadine’s exposure. Later, when he is discovered by Rowley, Elliot,

who has become Celadine’s new lover, can’t answer her question: "Are

you my friend?" Elliot and Rowley fight each other with some swift

swordplay in which the mute Jeffrey is stabbed, only he isn’t, because

under the dress he is wearing is the armor of a woman’s corset.

Disguises, false identities, bawdy, clever, witty, funny: that’s

"Celadine."

Since this is a play with the title character as a playwright, there’s

also some advice for playwrights. Elliot, the ostensible actor, whose

words have touched Celadine, says, "You should write what you are

afraid to feel." The lines remind us again of the drowned daughter.

The final incident, the acknowledging and naming of the daughter,

seems too slight to us to resolve this play. However, David Saint

points out in the program, that with the society still suffering

repercussions of the plague and, a year later the fire, the notion of

leaving a legacy "became the driving factor behind their [the

population’s] daily existence."

Still mystified? To decipher the who’s who of double dealing, the

mysteries purposely left unsolved here, see "Celadine."

– Joan Crespi

@lt:Celadine, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New

Brunswick, 732-246-7717. To December 12. $28 to $56. 8 p.m.


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