There are lots of classic books I haven’t read, and a few that I feel like I’ve read because I’ve seen a movie version or something on television. Jane Eyre is one of those books, and it turns out that one of the others is its near exact contemporary – Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. And can we just pause a moment and marvel in how astoundingly awesome a name that is? In any case, I’ve never read the book, but I went to see the movie that came out in 2004, and I enjoyed it so much that I bought a paperback copy of the novel thinking I would read it. LOL. No.
And while normally I wouldn’t have a need to know the ins and outs of the plot, the most recent production that opened at the Shakespeare Theatre is an adaptation of Vanity Fair. So thank goodness for having seen the movie, and knowing everything that’s going on and what to expect. Not that I really needed the help, but it’s always nice to know what to expect.
But let me back up a little bit – this is another adaptation of a novel by a playwright who adapted the version of Sense and Sensibility that the Boy and I took H to see a few years ago. Like that production, it’s a small cast where most of the actors double up on roles – taking on both male and female through use of wigs and just enough bits of costume to embody a character. Having seen that other show, the Boy and I knew what to expect and were excited to see how this show would do things.
And it turns out to be a terrific production. The story is simple – Becky Sharp is bad and poor, and Amelia Sedley is good and rich. They are friends, and their stories will intertwine from the time they leave school through much later. Their fortunes will shift, and attitudes of the people around them towards them will change with what they do. It’s a story of manners and relationships like the work of Jane Austen, but a little bit naughtier – Becky Sharp is a definite anti-heroine, and while you want her to succeed, no one on earth would think of her as a good person.
Because it’s such a small cast, and because everyone contributes so much to the production (I could honestly say amazing things about every one), it’s hard to choose standouts. But Rebekah Brockman as Becky Sharp is incandescent – your eye is drawn to her whenever she walks on the stage, and she seems to command the audience. You forget that Becky is occasionally awful, and you like her more than you ought to. Among the rest of the cast, the Boy and I liked Vincent Randazzo best, mainly because he played perhaps the broadest swath of character types, from shy Jos, to blustering Pitt, to the cold and distant Osborne. Sometimes his transitions between characters are over a matter of seconds, and yet he is able to make you feel like there is someone completely new on stage despite having just exited and returned.
This show is quite a lot of fun. If you saw Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility (or her Pride and Prejudice, which I’m now desperate to find playing somewhere nearby), this is a show for you. In fact, when we were reading the playbill for the show, we saw that Hamill has done an adaptation of Little Women that will premiere in New York this spring, and Hamill herself is in the show. So there’s a good chance the Boy and I will make a trip to see the show, and I feel like there’s a good chance that if I do, I will achieve full-fledged fan-girl status.
Details: Vanity Fair from the book by William Makepeace Thackeray, adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill. At Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20004. Through March 31 in DC, then at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre April 17-May 12.