The Pearl Theatre Company cuts a few fairly merry capers in its production of William Wycherley’s 1672 play The Gentleman Dancing-Master. This Restoration comedy, never before produced in New York, concerns a 14-year-old girl’s attempts to rid herself of a meddlesome arranged marriage. Poor Hippolita (Marsha Stephanie Blake)! Her straitlaced aunt (Robin Leslie Brown) and Spain-obsessed father (Dan Daily) have conspired to wed her to the ridiculous Mr. Paris (Sean McNall). “Monsieur de Paris,” as he now begs to be addressed, has spent three months in France and returned home sporting an extravagant accent, sumptuous wigs, and a celebrated pair of pink pantaloons. Hippolita doesn’t care for French style—she’s set her sights on Mr. Gerard (Bradford Cover), a floppy-haired hunk of bully English beefcake.
Director Gus Kaikkonen encourages his actors to enjoy the play’s japes and gibes, as well as the rustles and bustles of their costumes, but hasn’t seen fit to hasten the action. Musical interludes, bouts of swordplay, and all sorts of business with handkerchiefs and snuffboxes contribute to a running time of nearly three hours. At the two-hour mark, you might find yourself wishing that even the cleverest of Wycherley’s double entendres be made single—if only to speed things up.
Were Kaikkonen to stage a leaner production, perhaps he might make it meaner as well. He plays it safe, restricting the play’s able critiques of shallowness and hypocrisy exclusively to Wycherley’s day, never extending it to the present. Surely pretension, mendacity, and deference to French fashions (Yves Saint Laurent forever!) yet survive. “The liberty of this masquerading age,” which a character bemoans, applies equally well to our own.