The titular leading lady of Charles Evered’s Celadine runs a London coffee house, writes plays, occasionally does a bit of spying, and still looks fabulous well into her forties. Assisting her at the coffee house are Mary, a former hooker, and Jeffrey, a young hunk with a penchant for cross-dressing and for crawling under his boss’s skirt. Completing Celadine’s entourage in the play’s West Coast premiere at the Colony Theatre are Elliot and Rowley, the former a handsome young actor, the latter an ex-lover.  If Celadine’s young daughter Marie were still alive, the lady would seem to have it made—the very picture of a modern 21st Century woman, right?

Not quite.

Celadine is in fact a woman of the ‘70s, the 1670s that is, and if you think that the late 17th Century is hardly the setting for a smart, sexy soufflé of a play, think again. Despite Celadine’s full-length gowns and the britches and leggings worn by the men in her life, the business woman/playwright could well be one of Carrie’s gal pals in the upcoming Sex And The City sequel.

Not that the historical setting Evered has chosen is irrelevant to his tale. Au contraire. To fully enjoy Celadine, an English history refresher is de rigueur.  (And that’s all the French you’ll find in this review.)

Celadine takes place ten years or so into The Restoration, a Royal return to power which ended over a decade of religious Puritanism so strict that all theaters had been shut down as immoral. With King (and libertine) Charles II ensconced on the throne, the theaters were at last back in business, and this proved welcome news for the fictional Celadine and her non-fictional rival. real-life playwright Aphra Behn.  The historical Aphra is reported to have done some spying for Charles. In Evered’s comedy, Celadine follows Aphra’s example, but to say any more than this would be to spoil the play’s biggest surprise.

Like Sex And The City’s Samantha Jones, Celadine can easily have her pick of men. Teen stallion Jeffrey is mute (what more could a woman who wants to be in the driver’s seat ask for?) and ever willing to give Celadine a ride on his broad, muscular shoulders or to take needle and thread to her undergarments while they still adorn her shapely lower-half. Swashbuckling Elliot may be a tad older than young Jeff, but he’s every bit as handsome, so much so that Celadine ends up accepting his request that she write a play for him to star in. Rawley, the late Marie’s father, completes the triad of men in Celadine’s life, though he may in fact be more than he appears to be.  So, in fact, may Elliot for that matter.

Celadine got its world premiere in 2004 as a vehicle for Amy Irving, and though the Colony’s Giselle Wolf may lack Irving’s star status, the American actress’s long list of British credits and her cabaret artist allure make her an excellent choice for the role.  Wolf has just the right glamour and sophistication to bring Celadine to life, as well as comedic flair and the dramatic chops needed to express the ever-present pain that accompanies the loss of a child.  As Mary, Holly Hawkins provides Celadine with a great sidekick, always giving her mistress as good as she gets, and it’s nice to see Hawkins in significantly brighter mode than in A Noise Within’s recent (and considerably grimmer) Crime And Punishment. Hawkins’ C&P costar Michael A. Newcomer once again proves himself one of our best new leading men, as adept at romantic comedy as he was in dramatic form in The Heiress, The Manchurian Candidate, and Crime and Punishment. With his resonant voice, his swashbucking air, and his skill with a sword, Newcomer might well be channeling Errol Flynn here, making his Elliot a hard man for Celadine to turn down. Colony regular Larry Cedar is excellent as always as Rowley, demonstrating tip-top comic timing and effervescent joie de vivre (pardon my French) in what just might turn out to be a dual role. Finally, there is sexy newcomer Will Barker as Jeffrey, delightfully guileless and deliciously uninhibited in the dialog-free role, whether galloping about Celadine’s coffee house, twirling around in one of her gowns, or popping up from under Celadine’s skirts for air.  (Shame about the missing tongue, though.)

Director Andrew Barnicle keeps Evered’s fast-moving (well under two hour) romp light and frothy, and his fight choreography is exciting to boot.

Celadine’s design team make the production look like a million bucks.  Stephen Gifford’s impressive two-story Teale Coffeehouse fills the Colony stage in realistic 17th Century detail, aided by MacAndME’s properties design and set dressing. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s authentic costumes look like they could easily have come from a museum. Luke Moyer’s lighting design is his usual superb work, subtly accentuating the play’s comic and dramatic moments.  Cricket S. Myers’ fine sound design gets laughs whenever one particular character opens the coffee shop’s front door. (See the show to find out why.)

With its larger-than-usual cast and its period setting, Celadine is reminiscent of classic Colony shows from its 99-seat days.  Certain to entertain and short enough not to outstay its welcome, Evered’s lively confection will likely send many audience members to off to Google the Restoration, Charles II, and Aphra Behn—and that’s more than enough to rate applause.   

Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley
February 13, 2010
                                                                     Photo: Michael Lamont

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