Majestic’s “Concealed Fancies” breathes new life into a centuries-old comedy

by | Mar 25, 2022 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

Sanaya Forbes, left, and Ellie Smith play two sisters besieged by enemy soldiers and daffy suitors in “The Concealed Fancies.” The play, written in the 1640s by two sisters who were besieged by enemy soldiers at the time, is getting a rare production March 26 and 27 by the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company. (Courtesy photo)

Rachel Kohler at the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis calls it “one of my superpowers: Finding the most obscure play.”

This particular superpower has led to the March production of the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company – a staging of “The Concealed Fancies,” a play that dates to the 1640s and which was written by two sisters, Elizabeth Brackley and Jane Cavendish, during the English Civil War. The sisters wrote the play during a time when their father, a Royalist, had fled the country and the family’s two manors were besieged by enemy troops. “The Concealed Fancies” mirrors some of this historical reality.

In the guise of a romantic comedy.

“The Concealed Fancies” plays at the Majestic on Saturday, March 26 and Sunday, March 27. (See the related story for curtain times and ticket information.) Kohler believes it’s the first time the play has been performed in the United States.

Kohler first came across “The Concealed Fancies” when she was reading an essay that mentioned an anthology featuring plays written by women during the Renaissance. “I was like, ‘excuse me, what? There’s a whole anthology of this?’”

She bought the anthology and there, tucked away at the very back, was “The Concealed Fancies.”

Kohler was smitten.

“The play was delightful,” she said. “It had so many very funny scenes and so many very funny exchanges that I immediately decided I wanted to do an adaptation.”

She had another motivation for putting the production on stage: She said much of the criticism surrounding the play and female dramatists from the period is “condescending.”

“I was really annoyed because I feel like a lot of scholars approach these texts as literature and they don’t necessarily think about or understand how to visualize them as a performance text,” she said. “And I think you can only judge a play after it has been performed. And if you don’t see it on a stage, you can’t really tell how well it plays.”

After weeks of rehearsal, Kohler said she’s convinced that “The Concealed Fancies” plays well on stage and works nicely in the readers’ theater format.

The protagonists in “The Concealed Fancies” are two sisters, Luceny (Sanaya Forbes) and Tattiney (Ellie Smith) who, like their creators, are besieged in a manor by enemy forces. But the play adds “suitors doing some wacky things and some hilarious soldiers being dorks,” Kohler said. The writers also add a character who’s clearly inspired by their future stepmother – Margaret Cavendish, who gained fame in real life as a scientist, philosopher and writer.

“It’s a very unfair depiction of this woman,” Kohler said, “but I can see why they might be a little weirded out by their father offering to marry a woman who was two years younger than Jane, the eldest daughter. It was very scandalous.”

Kohler trimmed about 30 minutes from the play – the Readers’ Theatre production should clock in at about 90 minutes – and modernized language that might mystify modern audiences. She also condensed some of the play’s original 40 characters into a cast of about a dozen.

And she, and her cast, have worked on a couple of production techniques to help audiences keep track of who’s who – and to subtly underscore one of the themes of the play. As in most readers’ theater performances, the entire cast is seated on stage; actors stand only when they are “onstage.”

In “The Concealed Fancies,” however, whenever an “onstage” character is talking about another character, the actor will go to the chair where the “offstage” actor is sitting “and they mess with that offstage actor,” Kohler said.

It’s an effective bit of business, she said, “because this play is so much about theatricality as it relates to life. The young women are constantly talking about ‘oh, here’s how I acted my scene with my wooer and here’s how I comported myself and didn’t I look lovely.’ So they talk constantly about these little plays that they’re putting on in their lives to manipulate the people around them.”

Kohler’s cast also started adding bits of physical humor from the very first rehearsal – “some of which I hadn’t even envisioned until we got them up on their feet and they started playing with the text. That’s what I love to see when I work with a script that no one’s ever heard of, to find the ways that the text informs the actions.”

It’s all part of a production that Kohler hopes will discredit critics who have given short shrift over the centuries to “The Concealed Fancies.”

The production, she said, “will tell us: Is this a good play? Does the audience enjoy themselves? Does it play well? And I think, yes it does. … It’s delightful.”

If You Go

What: “The Concealed Fancies,” by Elizabeth Brackley and Jane Cavendish, adapted and directed by Rachel Kohler. It’s a production of the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company.

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 26 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 27. A talkback session with the actors and the director is scheduled after the Sunday performance.

Where: The Majestic Theatre, 115 SW Second St. in Corvallis.

How much: Tickets to the live production are $11, $16 and $21. Tickets are available by clicking here or at the theater box office.

On video: A streaming version of the production will be available beginning April 2. Tickets to view the streaming version are $11; click here for more information.

Looking for something to do in the mid-valley? Check out my curated calendar of arts-and-entertainment events.

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