This weekend, of all weekends, we want to stay as far away as possible from trials. After 16 months as a nation of amateur criminal lawyers, we deserve a respite from the critiques of cross-examiners, the pedantry of prosecution and the jockeying for jurors. Why not see a show? G&S is putting up something at the Agassiz, it's a little ditty they call "Trial by Jury."
The Gilbert and Sullivan Players' one-act operetta is a pre-season treat for G&S fans and a delightful introduction for neophytes. Think of it as a Gilbert and Sullivan sound-bite: 45 minutes of what has brought audiences back for well over a century. Bellow "God Save the Queen," thrill to the pun-ny patter, roll your eyes at the ending and still make it home in time for the post-trial wrap-up shows.
The premise of "Trial by Jury" is short and sweet. A jilted lover hauls her slimy sweetheart into court for breech of promise. The prosecution panders to judge and jury, the defendant dances out of a bind, everyone sings about a wedding and the curtain calls begin.
As the outraged plaintiff, Kate Delima struts onto stage (in the Virgin's colors, no less) and wins over the court nearly as quickly as she does the audience. Her full, expressive soprano tells her tale far better than any gesture could. Her erstwhile lover (Brent Ranalli) is as natty as his red and green plaid ensemble. Ranalli's voice is among the weaker in the cast, but he makes up for it in enthusiasm--especially when forced to defend himself and his wallet from what becomes less prosecution than persecution.
Though they claim nobly that, "From bias free of every kind, this trial must be tried," the jury and their powerful voices are easily swayed by the truthful testimony and trim ankles of the plaintiff. Like the female chorus of would-be brides(maids), the male chorus is a mighty foursome of harmony and ham. As the usher, Thomas Munro is up to the task of keeping them and his own monumental pronouncements in line.
Wayne Vargas, the prosecutor, could take the Dershowitz part in the upcoming O.J. rock opera, but he and nearly everyone else on stage must bow to the diction and dash of Douglas Miller's judge. Miller, as Harvard's G&S fans know, could make a career breathing life into these archaic operettas. He presides over the court-room chaos with the imperturbility of Victoria on her throne and is equally game to hop from his bench for "Trial by Jury's" spirited polka climax.
Amy Baron's set, like the rest of the production, is all the better for its pared down elegance. Her "wooden" benches blend with the uncharacteristically restrained earth tones of Carrie Benes' perfectly period costumes. Karen Eisner too, holds the lively orchestra in check, a task which has eluded past Agassiz conductors.
You'll hardly have adjusted to the uptight Agassiz seats before it's time for an ovation. "Trial by Jury" is just an overture to November's full-scale "Yeomen of the Guard." With G&S, though, as with all trials, it's better to leave wanting more than staring with glazed eyes at your watch--or your calendar.