So, “Why British Restoration Comedy?” Well, aside from the Obvious (or, if not so “obvious” reason; the chance to wear wigs, character makeup, corsets, petticoats and high heeled shoes… and that’s for just the guys!) there are two elements of British Restoration Styling that work out very well with my story.
Namely, One, the “Asides!” You may know, that the Characters that populate the Restoration Comedy stage (at least the Earlier plays circa 1660, “The unsentimental or "hard" comedies of John Dryden, William Wycherley, and George Etherege reflected the atmosphere at Court, and celebrated with frankness an aristocratic macho lifestyle of unremitting sexual intrigue and conquest”) areNOT very sympathetic; most are driven by their lust for Life i.e. Sexual Conquest, Money… and MORE Money (preferably without having to Earn Any of It!) And, yet, they do draw in our attention, and, perhaps grudging admiration, as we may find ourselves rooting for One against the Other… Why? I think it has to do with the most blatant use of the “Aside” where the Actor/Character scoffs at any concept of a “fourth wall” and talks – directly – to the Audience… to Us and our Darkest (unshared) Desire… even if only for a Moment.
Simon Callow, in his brilliant “Acting in Restoration Comedy” takes it a level deeper, both for the Actor and for appreciation of the artifice; by specifying that the Character is NOT addressing the audience, at large, but a specific “fan” of their's who understands their plight and can be appealed to when the circumstances of the scene seem quite more than they can deal with… in “polite society.” I think this is where the Restoration Styling allows for a – closer – relationship between the Actor and Individual audience member, where that individual may be free to feel that they can agree with the “Character” and begin to root for them, as the story unfolds, in a way that is uniquely “theatrical” as singing a song or listening to a Voice Over and – isn’t that exactly why we may prefer to witness a Live Performance i.e. this is NOT happened in the edited past… but – at this very moment – and I am rooting for their Success!
And it doesn’t weaken my case to reflect that the audience for Restoration Comedy was – not the “average Jane and Joe” of those days – but the very Elite and Prosperous class that regained their fortunes upon the return of Charles the 2nd with all the Debauchery he brought with him… from France. Even the Orange Ladies that prostituted themselves for the aristocracy that attended these plays, did so with a High Class Client that brought with them a commiserate Higher Income than they could have earned… otherwise or elsewhere (as the Hulu Series “Harlots” so titillating revitalizes on NetFlix today) You may not make the same – choices – Yourself, but You can grow to understand Why these Characters Do what they Do… because They Are who they Are… Unabashedly and Scandalously!
The Second Element that led me down to sifting through these mostly unknown, or forgotten and rarely performed plays, was Cross Gendering… particularly in an Age that – while licentious – could still land a man or woman in Prison (or worse) for “daring to express that Love that Dared not Spake its Name” (which remained the reality over two hundred years later when the Last (?) Restoration playwright, Oscar Wilde found himself facing incarceration for a similar desire... that he was not free to express, explicitly, even in his fanciful plays) for Charley brought something – else – back with Him from France…
Women! Onstage! Even Shakespearean Scholars seem to forget that Elizabethan and Jacobean plays did NOT allow women on stage. So, from Lady Macbeth to Kate the Cursed Shrew, they were all played by very talented (and brave) Men… given that most of King James’ favorite men ended up losing their heads when the public sentiment was allowed to express itself in politically expedient ways. Oddly enough, the introduction of Women to the stage did not unroll, so much as a celebration of Women, but more of a perverse excuse to dress them up… as “men” (albeit, so that they could show their shapely legs to the appreciative crowd… of men)
But anyone who has seen “The Country Wife” has got to have been intrigued by the long scene where the pretty young Country Girl and passed around as a Young “Man” and the double entendre seems to be most of the Fun! I may be the sole (non) academic to assert that there is a LOT more going on in this scene (other than the obvious) but – even IF I surmise wrong – this cross-gendering provided the Inspiration to encase our Modern World in a Restorative Style of Theatre that made writing out the “faux” story much more… fun!
So, Why do we still Do this Restoration Theatre stuff? Particularly in the way we recreated the Audience:
As Simon Callow is asked at the end of his lecture, “Why do we even produce these plays (as seldom as we do) these days?” “Do we do it as a cultural exercise?” “Are these Museum pieces that must be trotted, every now and then, for some laudatory homage to Anglo History… then stuffed back in their Theatrical coffins?
Simon, “I think they are a demonstration of Way in Which a Society lived its Life, and, therefore, it’s Always of Value to Us -because we can test our Own Arrangements… against It. But, more Important than that, in a sense, is that they ARE Bursting with Life! And, it is the Giving and Restoring of Life that is the Theatre.”
That was good enough for me to see if I could Restore the Vitality of this dormant Period of Theatre to… Life.