The Lady Cavaliers: Signature Stories is a compilation of five short plays written and directed by Peter Hilton. The producing party of The Lady Cavalier Theatre Company is truly a family affair. Enjoying a short run at the Greenwich Street Theatre in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the company acted together, sang together, fought and even pulled out their swords together, as every theatrical family should.
When the house opened, actor/playwright/director Hilton was seated on a chair next to a table reading a newspaper. When the house lights finally dimmed, the evening rolled into the short play entitled Mrs. Garrud’s Dojo. It’s the top of the 20th century, and Gertrude Harding (Carrie Brewer), a young suffragette, is forced to turn to the persuasive methods of a female ju-jitsu instructor named Mrs. Edith Garrud (played brilliantly by Ricki G. Ravitts) when her husband fails to support the fight for her right to vote. Hilton plays the headstrong Dr. William Armstrong, a modern professional who is unsupportive of the women’s suffrage movement.
Costume designer Cheryl McCarron decorated the actor with the period glasses and parted his blond hair right down in the middle. He looked a bit like a younger Teddy Roosevelt and tolerated every conversation with his female companions by explaining to them what the “real deal” was in a way that was so over-the-top chauvinistic, that the audience might have come out of the theatre loving his true-to-life character the most.
One of the only glitches in this part of the production (and there were few) was that Hilton (who is British in real life) performed alongside his fellow American actors, who all displayed a dialect that seemed to collapse next to the real McCoy at this performance.
Hilton’s character reluctantly agrees to attend a woman’s suffrage demonstration with Brewer and cousin Beatrice Harding (Amanda Barron). A male volunteer is needed to demonstrate a ju-jitsu women’s defense movement, so he agrees to participate as he has “extensive theatre experience” and is convinced that a woman could never harm him. The results that followed were comedic genius, with fight direction credited to Michael Jerome Johnson.
Hilton and Ravitts exceptionally shone in this vignette, and both proved to be so highly skilled in stage combat that it seemed easy to forget that the amusing gymnastics were rehearsed. Ravitts’s character is overenthusiastic and skilled at ju-jitsu and Hilton thinks he’s always right.
The Trung Sisters was suddenly born with a smooth yet unimpressive transition. Trung Trac (Maggie Macdonald) and Trung Nhi (Nandita Shenoy) are sisters in ancient Vietnam fighting to free their country from Chinese domination. Trung Nhi admits that although she is not a good fighter she is willing to fight to the end and uses her ballet movements to help her sister fight the enemy. Marius Hanford’s fight direction was particularly funny because Shenoy was actually a trained ballet dancer. Brewer returned as an apparition, and it was in this vignette that the audience began to notice that Brewer, too, was also very adept in stage combat. Mark Silence played a supporting role as a palace guard. The audience found out later that the Trung sisters are playing a video game and that the Governor is really their father telling them to get to bed.
T’was Two to a Grave was up next, when 18th-century journalist Daniel Defoe (played by Silence) interviews a jailed sailor in an attempt to expose two infamous Caribbean pirates, Anne Bonney (Brewer) and Mary Read (Macdonald). This is the vignette that showed off the sword fighting and stage combat skills of the cast best. Brewer showed herself to be a fit, strong, and believable actress ready for a higher public profile. (And she knew how to use a sword AND a whip!) Silence’s aristocratic costume was marvelous. Fight direction in this scene was credited to dynamo Brewer.
Contestant 325 is a supreme tour de force solo piece featuring the profound talents of Ravitts. It’s the summer of 1936. The U.S. threatens to boycott Hitler’s Olympic games unless Germany is seen to cooperate by allowing one fencer to play in the games as the “token Jew.” This actor’s time onstage seemed far too short. Again, McCarron did an outstanding job with Ravitts’s off-white costume that quietly produced an emotional image of the Third Reich and the 1930s.
A Silent Exchange is a potent scene played out without an utterance from the actors. It’s 1910 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. A female film director (Shenoy) tries to shoot a silent movie of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night despite the unprofessional behavior of her main actors. Brewer played the celebrated actress and Silence played the action hero who would not be caught dead performing with her and refuses to perform. Brewer kept the laughs coming by transforming every sword fight scene into a Charleston. Barron did a great job of playing the straight man to the audience in the appropriate style of the day.
Although Ravitts was not onstage herself, fight direction credit went to her and her playful comic genius. This scene included one of the most refreshing physical comedies this season. Every moment was action-packed with careful choreography, and the actors all rose to the occasion. And it was funny, funny, funny. Bravo!
Lighting Designer K.J. Hardy’s talents were showcased well in this scene where the stage flickered as if watching a silent film from the era.
The ladies (and gentlemen) of Cavalier who were out to challenge stereotypes of the “weaker sex” proved that great stories of strong female images, exciting swordfights, and a mere black box can all equal superb comedy--with an edge.
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Copyright 2005 Jade Esteban Estrada