Romance is an obstacle course, best navigated with the aid of disguises, dissembling, and a clever confidante’s discretion. So suggests the Queen’s Company’s peppy all-female take on Susanna Centlivre’s 1714 comedy The Wonder: A Woman Keeps a Secret—a gleeful drag show that, in the end, drags on a little too long.
Amid Kip Marsh’s pastel set, Centlivre’s tale of furiously confused identities and marital machinations unfolds: Violante loves Don Felix, but her father has condemned her to the convent. Felix’s sister, Isabella—fleeing unwanted betrothal—leaps from a window, landing in the arms of the rakish Colonel Britton. Presently, the men are dueling and dropping trou, while the women endeavor to keep the right suitor stashed in the right bedchamber until a priest seals the deal.
The trusty strategy of cross-casting a misogynist genre allows director Rebecca Patterson to highlight the play’s exaggerated gender roles. Reveling in Centlivre’s supersized Mediterranean fantasies (another form of drag), she stages sugary dumbshows of breast-clutching ardor: The women, glorifying girliness, bask in their bumbling heroes’ embraces while kitschy pop music plays.
But in Restoration comedy, lurking danger always propelled the matrimonial drive: Duels turned deadly, flirtations veered towards rape. If Patterson’s fluffy hijinks were injected with real menace, this comedy of intrigue might be a little more intriguing.