I am continually amazed by Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro. This ambitious company again and again puts up shows of quality and excellence both in production and performance. There may be a show now and then that doesn’t quite hit the mark, but for the most part, I have seen great revivals of classic comedies and dramas, as well as newer, contemporary works. The latest Little Fish offering, Embridge, is doubly unique. Written by company member Kathryn Farren, this romantic comedy is set in a great house in Victorian England sometime after the American Civil War. Ms. Farren also takes the lead role of Mabel Martin, a Hepburn-esque beauty and protofeminist who is not immune to the lures of romance. As playwright, Ms. Farren successfully creates a fusion in styles of her two favorite authors, Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde, while juggling three romantic pairings.
In the opening scene, the Martin house is in an uproar. Mrs. Martin (Annie Vest), the domineering, oblivious mother of Mabel and her younger sister, Emily (young, lovely Corrine Mica), intends to marry off the younger daughter to the loathsome, rich, elderly cousin, Sir Thomas (James Rice). What makes him unsuited besides the obvious? He is doddering, lecherous, and works his mouth as if trying to adjust ill-fitting dentures. Poor Emily, in an hilariously display of despair, weeps copious tears loudly and continually. It is even worse that she has another, much more suitable suitor waiting in the wings, the aptly named Mr. Worthing (Daniel Gallai), who is tall, slim, hesitating, and more than a little oblivious.
Frank Martin (Jamie Pierce), brother to Mabel and Emily, is well-dressed, enchantingly arch, delightfully witty, and something of a poseur, an Oscar Wilde before Oscar Wilde. He is also a problem solver in regards to Emily’s conundrum. And that solution comes in the form of his American friend, William Rosmand (Brian O’Sullivan), a troubled Civil War veteran.
Sir Thomas’ ward, Henry Robbins (tall, handsome Ryan Knight), serves as his benefactor’s secretary and general factotum. He is in thrall to Sir Thomas, and is conflicted over his romantic intentions toward Mabel.
The final romance is an unlikely one between the peeping-tom butler, Logan (veteran Little Fish actor Don Schlossman), and the tart-tongued Harriet (Shirley Ritter Hatton). What is a great house without servants?
In order to spare Emily from a fate worse than death, brother Frank, in collusion with Will Rosmand, cook up a scheme that has Will putting on a performance as a rich, grinning, American with an accent and manner best left for an audience to discover. I will not spoil the plot!
Under the direction of Margaret Schugt, the pace is brisk, the comedy hilarious, and the romance touching, and, ultimately affecting, for those who, like me, are open to such feelings.Once again the company has done wonders with their intimate space, with set design, build, and paint by Tristan Griffin; costume design by Aja Morris-Smiley; ideal sound design by Ms. Schugt; lighting design by Charlotte Tierney; and prop design by Collette Rutherford. The costumes and furniture are sumptuous and enhance the believability of time and place. Jacob Severance manages the stage with aplomb.
Final word…I found this show to be delightful, well written, well performed, handsomely staged, and wonderfully entertaining. I can easily see this play moving on. It may not stay in its present form. Consider it to be an “out of town tryout” that may need cuts and revisions. Who knows? It is an impressive debut for Kathryn Farren. But I may be out of line in thinking this is a first play. Is there another opus in a drawer or on the computer Ms. Farren? Let me know when I can see your next endeavor. And, by the way, I greatly appreciated the sly Wilde reference to tea and cucumber sandwiches.
Embridge continues through December 15 at Little Fish Theatre, 777 South Centre Street in San Pedro’s Arts District.