Taking the form of traditional comic operetta, Patience parodies the Wildean Aestheticism rampant in late 19th century England. As the production notes indicate, there is an emphasis on “fads, fashion and faux-intellectualism.”
Twenty trend-crazy, “love sick maidens” pine after the poet Bunthorne, who puts on artsy airs to seduce them. The local Dragoon Guards, a crew of macho men who were once fancied by these women—but now discarded with the changing fashion—look on disapprovingly.
Bunthorne rejects the maiden’s affections and instead favors the local milkmaid Patience, who doesn’t understand the poet’s anguished ways. Patience, in turn, falls for the superlatively self-assured and well-primped Grosvenor.
But, complicating matters, Patience believes love equates with self-sacrifice and thus does not marry Grosvenor, because wedding such a perfect specimen seems selfish and the happiness derived from it grotesque.
It isn’t giving much away to say that the operetta ends with all the confusion neatly cleared up and the protagonists paired up and living happily ever after.
There are dangers in mounting a play that pokes fun at Aestheticism, an artistic movement long gone and potentially unfamiliar to many audience members. It also may come across dated in appeal and humor.
One frequently employed solution is to update the action to modern times, in an attempt to drill home the musical’s relevance to contemporary audiences. This production, however, has chosen not to reset the operetta, but rather to emphasize the humorous moments and trusts the audience to draw the fairly obvious connections between the faddism of then and now.
Besides the constant attention to bringing out the show’s humor, the production has much to recommend itself in terms of production values. At curtain’s rise, the audience is immediately treated to two of the musical’s most surprising treats: the set design and the costumes. The set, with its vibrant colors and meticulously crafted backdrop, is delicious eye candy for the audience. The costumes are also beautifully designed and equip the production with a well-deserved level professionalism.
In fact the costumes become a wonderfully effective tool in bolstering the comic elements of the play. When Bunthorne walks on stage with his beret, black turtleneck and absurd purple and black striped knickers or when the Dragoon Guards make their dramatic change in costume from military uniform to aesthete-in-training frocks, the audience can’t help but roar with laughter.
The apt staging and choreography, like the costumes, are also key in communicating Patience’s humor. Bunthorne’s onstage frolicking, especially in his delightful Act II duet with Lady Jane, “So Go To Him And Say To Him,” provides the production with some of its greatest humor.
In scenes featuring the ensemble cast, the staging allows the maidens to weave between the dragoon guards, creating a playful tension without overcrowding the stage. At times however, as in “Let the Merry Cymbals Sound,” the final scene of Act I, the more complicated staging seems visibly difficult and awkward. Such problems seem like they could have been remedied with additional rehearsal time.
The most noticeable weakness of the production was the inconsistent performances from individual performers. Though Patience does not contain particularly nuanced characterization, the substantial dialogue and songs with wide vocal ranges demand considerable acting and singing know-how from the performers.
Import Erica Livingston, as the rapidly-aging, unfortunately plain and desperate maid Lady Jane, strikes the most successful balance between the two requirements. Livingston couples witty acting with a full-bodied vocal performance, though her tone occasionally slips.
Other performers, most notably James P. Maltese ’04 as Bunthorne and Patience herself, played by Casey Hutchinson (an import from the New England Conservatory), are also spot on in finding the comic appeal of their characters. Hutchinson’s sweet voice is also among the night’s most accomplished.
Though the acting is amusing and generally consistent throughout the performance (despite the sometimes overzealous facial expressions of the Rapturous Maids), the singing from most of the rest of the company remains a weak spot. At times the performers’ voices are nearly drowned out by the orchestra and, at others, breathiness and forced vibratos and undermine the energy of scenes.