Step 1 in catching up with theater happenings of the past few weeks is posting long overdue thoughts about Stolen Chair Theatre Company’s production of The Bachelors’ Tea Party which I attended earlier this month.
I have mentioned before that one of the benefits to living in New York City is that there are so many hidden gems to be found once you step away from the dazzling brightness of Times Square and this production is certainly one of them.
The Bachelors’ Tea Party isperformed out of Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon off of Union Square and centers around Victorian Era ladies, the historical figures of Elsie DeWolfe and Bessie Marbury in particular, conducting business over high tea. These two ladies, as exhibited throughout the play, and further detailed in the program, were strong and independent women who managed to make respectable careers for themselves within a society that rarely respected women.
In order to depict the difficulties that Elsie and Bessie must have faced in garnering the esteem necessary to create careers, Stolen Chair’s resident playwright Kiran Rikhye and director Jon Stancato made the choice to have any additional characters, outside of their two leading ladies, portrayed by porcelain dolls. This, in addition to the use of a child’s tea set, gave the impression that the two women were playing tea party like little girls rather than hosting one for affluential members of New York society.
The thing that I found most interesting about this choice is that it communicates an incredible amount of duality in the way DeWolf and Marbury were regarded by their community as well as in how they reacted to these perceptions. The whole idea of a child’s tea party illustrates that the two ‘Bachelors’ were viewed as eccentric and slightly ridiculous at times which could have had the effect of making them feel as though they might as well have been talking to inanimate objects. On the flip side of this, the use of dolls also helps to depict how these shrewd women were able to manipulate conversations and puppeteer people into investing in their ventures.
Actresses Liz Eckert and Jody Flader, who played Bessie Marbury and Elsie DeWolfe respectively, did a wonderful job of portraying the many layers of the Bachelors’ personalities and seemed to imbue each moment with equal amounts of earnestness and absurdity. Eckert’s attentive and careful handling of the dollies, contrasting with Flader’s mocking and ill-treatment of them, perfectly demonstrated how even though these women were friends, they had very different attitudes on how to approach the wealthier members of Society from whom they were trying to solicit business.
Overall, I found the play to be smart, funny, and thought provoking. Part of the interest of the production was that it was performed in conjunction with Lady Mendl’s 5pm Victorian tea service, which provides a unique spin on the convention of dinner theater. The Salon location created a period appropriate backdrop for the production which added a semblance of realism to compliment the absurdity of the Party and the traditional tea service allowed the audience to be included in the world of the play rather than simply observing.
My only complaint is more a failing of the audience to be able to laugh at comedic moments with the actresses in such close proximity than the production itself. I sincerely hope that the audience at the performance I attended was out of the norm and that these engaging actresses get the laughs that they deserve on a regular basis.
The Bachelors’ Tea Party is an interesting piece of theater that explores an answer to the question many modern women, or at least I, have pondered about who they might have been or what they could have accomplished (especially if they were not married) should they have been born to an earlier period in history.
Stolen Chair Theatre Company created a very unique theatrical experience with The Bachelors’ Tea Party and you only have three more chances to see it! The final performances will take place on Dec 2, 16 and 23 at 5pm. To find out more info about tickets check out the website at http://www.stolenchair.org/ and run run run (but be ladylike about it) to Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon to catch this show before it is gone!