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
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
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
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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