R.S.V.P. – Please Pass the Dolt
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
I am a perfectly positioned audience member for R.S.V.P., Glass Mind’s latest offering, playing for a hot second over at Area 405. I am obsessed with old etiquette books, I collect them (my favorite is a corker called No Nice Girls Swear written in the twenties as a stern warning to madcap heiresses). I am aware that Mrs. Emily Post lived in Baltimore, in Mt. Vernon, I believe, when she wrote her famous book of manners, titled, simply, Etiquette. I find it vaguely hilarious that Baltimore was once considered a bastion of good manners but that is, of course, because I live in a day and age where I’ve rather given up on hoping people don’t spit in the street and am fine settling for them not spitting directly into my mouth. I routinely fall asleep reading about when to use what crawfish fork. It’s all so comfortingly antique, so boringly alien. My spirit animals at Glass Mind clearly share my affection for obsolete rigidity, daring to write a play based on Etiquette. It’s a very fun undertaking out of the idea that etiquette as a concept is fascinating because it’s like a weird foreign sign language that is soothing and anxiety producing at the same time. The show is a serious of little vignettes loosely based upon characters time traveling between our Baltimore and the one of yesteryear. Post was always wryly pigeonholing the fictional folks in her “do and don’t” diatribes and the show nods to that in the character names: Mrs. Kindheart (Lorraine Imwold), always trying to do the right thing, Mrs. Wordly (Liz Galuardi), the grand old dame (she’d be played by Maggie Smith in the movie version of this), Mrs. Grundy (Caitlin Bouxsein), a boor both then and now. The plot is just a clothes hanger, though, for the jokes based on the jarring and yet strangely familiar I’m-hot-then-I’m-cold rules of social conduct. The play is strongest when it draws parallels between the seemingly laughably ridiculous oldenye tymes and the startlingly jarring nowadays: sure, maybe no one cares anymore who walks on the outside in the street, but you had better not use more than one red fucking solo cup or post too many pictures of someone else’s girlfriend on Facebook. The show points out, quite cleverly, in my opinion, that etiquette is all about barriers, signifiers for who is “one of us” and who is “one of them”. It allows you to be unthinkably rude and then be applauded for it, certain in your knowledge that you are absolutely correct. One of my favorite scenes was set in a Royal Farms, where a horrified member of the former upper crust asks an old lady if the explanation for her Baltimore uniform of shower cap and slippers could possibly be that she escaped from a burning building. Sure, the show can get silly, and I was less interested in the cartoony violence near the end, but on the whole I thought the experiment was supremely successful and had Glass Mind stamped all over it. Director Ann Turiano keeps it all tight and fast for which I was very appreciative. I especially liked her smash cut transitions. I see too many fucking comedies that are done at the goddamned grave’s pace. As always at GMT, the ensemble is mostly superb, though a few especially caught my eye: Caitlin Bouxsein’s wonderfully impassive and droll vibe is built for comedy and honestly her Miss Pitty Pat (whose entrance I would not dream of spoiling) was the funniest thing in the whole show. I’m liking Vince Constantino more and more each time I see him (he just seems so darned relaxed on stage) and he had a seriously grinny scene in this one where he played all three generations of the Moneybags family in what I’m hoping is a subtle take on the old “I’m my own grandfather!” time travel trope. Lorraine Imwold’s open face and sincere air gave Mrs. Kindheart some genuine moments and Liz Galuardi’s Mrs. Worldly was a real right funny narrow-eyed old bat. I saw Sweeney Todd in this space a few weeks ago and I thought the industrial loading dock look worked much, much better for that show than it did for this one. Here, the setting struck a pretty dissonant chord, though, given the nomadic state of Glass Mind (like too many other Baltimore theaters) I have a feeling they took what they could get. Costumes by Jessica Ruth Baker weren’t much to speak of, mostly adding hats and canes as needed, but it worked with the pace. Eric Honour’s sound design was stylish and in-vogue, it was the type of “golden oldies mashed with some techo beats” that one finds at pretty good artisanal coffyee shoppes. I wished the choreography by Caitlin Bouxsein and Lorraine Inwold had been just a bit more integrated with the piece, this is the second show I’ve seen in a row that started out with an oddly disjointed interpretive dance. If this is A Trend I’m not cottoning to it quite yet.
BOTTOM LINE: R.S.V.P. is really quite clever and charming, charming. In the parlance of our times, I found it suuuuupercute. It doesn’t get real viscous or deep and dark, but that’s a-okay by me. Kudos to a fun idea pulled off well. Glass Mind is quickly becoming my most looked forward to stage in Baltimore – I find myself wondering with glee what they’ll cook up next.
Running at Glass Mind Theatre until June 15th.
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