As two upper-crust English sisters of marriageable age in the Victorian era, Mia Hutchinson-Shaw and Natalia Dyer bring new meaning to sibling rivalry in the titular roles of Adaire Kamen’s The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham, Ladies of Society. Under the direction of Jose Gamo, their bearings, mannerisms, spot-on accents, and distinctive emotions characterize the young women’s antithetical personalities—Frances is a wild child and Meg appears to be more controlled and proper—which cause them to bicker over everything, from jewelry to the favor of their father to the men they want to marry. They are thoroughly captivating, as they both look and act the parts.
Though privileged in socio-economic status and beauty, the sisters in Kamen’s historical fiction are less fortunate in their right to self-determination, freedom of expression, and sexuality that were denied women of their period–a theme that Sarah Ruhl examined in her 2009 work In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)–and what seems at first to be a light-hearted comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility soon becomes dramatically dark, in a story filled with pain, thwarted love, and unfulfilled lives, recalling the more serious tone of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.
While the script has the makings of a compelling narrative, the current production is in need of more rehearsal time and a less slipshod design A minimal set by Katherine Barton, composed of metal doorframes and wire mesh, in no way evokes an upper-class 19th-century estate, nor do the sloppy inauthentic costumes. In the performance I attended, there were no programs available to the audience (or reviewers!), the pre-recorded musical soundtrack (sound design by Peyton Berry) was off in its timing and drowned out some of the dialogue, and the uneven ensemble was inconsistent in its British accents and noticeably stumbled over several lines.
The one standout in the supporting cast was Evan Sibley, who delivered on all counts as Meg’s true love, the dashing and sensitive Will. He was the most engaging of The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham, Ladies of Society.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.
The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham, Ladies of Society plays through Friday, August 26, 2016, performing at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente – 107 Suffolk Street, in NYC. Purchase tickets online.
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2016 FringeNYC Review: ‘The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham, Ladies of Society’ by Deb Miller.