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Theater review by Raven Snook
For fans of 19th-century farce who yearn for options beyond The Importance of Being Earnest, the Irish Rep's handsome revival of Dion Boucicault's 1841 smash London Assurance offers similar silly pleasures. The comedy revolves around the preening peacock Sir Harcourt Courtly (the delicious Colin McPhillamy) and his rakish son Charles (Ian Holcomb), both of whom are wooing the fetching Grace Harkaway (Caroline Strang). A rouge-cheeked buffoon who fancies himself a fashion plate, Courtly has been promised Grace's hand in marriage as part of a financial arrangement with her uncle (Brian Keane), whereas Charles is just a young man who falls unexpectedly in love. Chaos ensues on the weekend of the planned engagement, thanks to a zany array of stock characters, including the seductive huntress Lady Gay Spanker (Rachel Pickup, dazzling), her milquetoast husband (Robert Zuckerman), a sleazy lawyer (Evan Zes, overplaying) and Charles’s layabout pal (Craig Wesley Divino).
Old comedies can feel tragically outmoded, and although the cast is solid and spirited, and James Noone's revolving set is lovely, London Assurance inspires more grins than guffaws. But while this antique can never truly shake off all its dust, director Charlotte Moore is blessed to have gifted stage vet McPhillamy in the central role. He's unafraid to look ridiculous, and his expressive delivery leaves no funny line unpunched. More importantly, he smooths over his character's lechery, which doesn't go over the same way it did two centuries ago—or even two decades ago, when London Assurance was last revived on Broadway. It's a testament to the artistry of this production that it makes the play so assuredly agreeable.
Irish Repertory Theatre (Off Broadway). By Dion Boucicault. Directed by Charlotte Moore. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.