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Photograph: Steven TownshendSusan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride at Babes With Blades

Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride at Babes With Blades | Theater review

Playwright Reina Hardy’s title creation is a delight; if only the play had more of her.

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The greatest weapon in this Babes With Blades premiere is the character with top billing. Unfailingly decorous and impeccably eloquent even when taking down an attacker with her umbrella or feinting with a sword in her unmentionables, playwright Reina Hardy’s Susan Swayne is a delightful creation. As the imperturbable Victorian lady detective, Lisa Herceg shoulders the play’s dialect and comically florid language with timing and wit. It’s not a deep character study, but it doesn’t have to be.

The mostly lightweight play concerns a secret group of women in 19th-century London: The SOLD (Society of Lady Detectives) use “techniques of forceful persuasion” to solve crimes—meaning they’re mystery-solving badasses in bustles and buttoned boots. The crime at hand involves a killer stalking women in the city streets and the estranged husband of a Mrs. Isabelle Fontaine-Kite (the title’s bewildered bride), who, inevitably, is drawn into the sparring fold herself.

As collected and charming as Herceg’s Susan is, the rest of the ensemble works extra hard to juggle a jarring level of high camp with lengthy changes of the unwieldy set. There’s the requisite spirited swordplay, of course (handily choreographed by Libby Beyreis), but that’s mostly incidental as the play dips into issues of gender and acceptance and veers away from a succinct, satisfying—or crime-solving, for that matter—resolution. In the end, we’d be better entertained with more Susan and less message.

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