She Wou'd If She Cou'd

At Dunster House, March 12, 14, 20, and 21

Well, drama has been restored to Dunster House; but not altogether. For the first half-hour or so, the dull air of disaster hangs over the dinning-hall production of Sir George Etheredge's comedy "She Wou'd If She Cou'd" (circa 1688). Then the play--not quite picks up, but at least becomes familiar--and the American premiere of Sir George's farce alternately dances and stumbles to a happy ending.

The play itself, according to Samuel Pepys (via the Program Notes), is "silly." It is. It is also genuinely dirty, and all the dirt is delivered by the actors with intelligent attention and commendable relish. The plot, however, swells to unmanageable length and complication. The Dunster Players gives us the full performance, and unfortunately it plays till midnight.

A few--but not enough--of the actors are equal to the energy of Restoration theater, William Tucker and Peter McManus do creditably as rogues in league, strutting like a pair of seventeenth-century clubbies through a trying punch. Their costumes sometimes get the better of their coolness and wigs and swords rattle about unhandily, but for the most part they seem in control of their roles. Sir Oliver Cockwood is played nicely by Paul Jeffreys-Powell. He and his brother Sir Joslin Jolley (Jeffrey Mahlman) roar through a series of imaginary brothels with real enthusiasm, but sometimes leave their lines hanging. Footmen, waiters, etc., all appear and disappear with reassuring regularity.

As ever, the girls are better. Like for instance Meg Meglathery, the undisputed star of the show. Miss Meglathery hams the part of Mistress Sentry the Maid to wonderfully comic proportions, endearing herself--and the play--to the audience at every entrance. Patricia Hawkins is another charmer. She and Madeleine Fischer deliver wordy, nonsensical lines with great spirit and some success. Like everyone in the play, they are beautifully costumed. Kay Bourne moves handsomely through the difficult role of Virtue (Lady Cockwood) in a bawdy house.

The sets, by James Kelley, are casual and pleasant. The scene changes are painfully slow, and while the recorder music is pretty, there is rather too much of it. The usherettes, however, are exceptional. In other words, "She Wou'd If She Cou'd" is not the slickest show to hit Cambridge this year, but it has its moments and makes do pretty cheerfully.