Once Upon a Mistress

A Thousand Merry Conceits: A Private Audience with Nell Gwyn

By Lynn Marie Macy
Directed by David Scott
Distilled Spirits
Trilogy Theatre
341 W. 44th St. (330-1478)
Non-union production (closes September 29)
Review by James A. Lopata

Nell Gwyn (Lynn Marie Macy) stumbles onstage carrying a candelabrum. She trips on a passed-out guest before noticing other visitors - the audience -- at a birthday party she is hosting for King Charles II. She is his proud mistress in an era when such roles were common.

For the next hour, she regales the audience with stories about her life and loves in Restoration England. Without any strong through-line or plot, this one-sided conversation alternates between amusement, interest, and the occasional drifting thought that the party in the next room might be more interesting.

The program's glossary, historical notes, extensive chronology, biography, and fully quoted letter from Gwyn suggest that this dramatic work is meant as an educational tool. And indeed, much of the play is devoted to a compendium of quips and anecdotes about the people of her time -- Prince Perkin, Charles II, John Dryden and several others -- and Protestant and Catholic tensions as well as conflicting claims to the throne.

Macy's congenial portrayal of Nell kept the history lesson from taking over the play. And thankfully, she was also aided by the use of pictures (recreated by Lucie Chin) drawn by the inebriated floor guest, Simon Verels, an artist from the period. This is particularly helpful, since the characters are not fleshed out in the script fully enough for the audience to follow them with any sense of identity.

At one point, Nell spins through several characters in as many dizzying circles as the brocade pattern on the screens that made up the set's backdrop. She stops in mid-explanation to ask if the audience is confused. Don't worry, she says, the King always asks her to explain them as well.

D. Scott Johnson played Simon Verels -- passed out on the floor of the stage from the moment the audience walked into the theatre until curtain call -- with great conviction.

David Scott's direction was appropriate and flowed naturally. The production design by Lighting Elves, Inc. used bronze goblets and other appropriate pieces to create a proper if uninspired setting for this period piece.

Macy's acting -- as warm, amiable and natural as it was - could not live up to the hype of what Gwyn's own personality must have been. The evening was enjoyable, if not rousing. The play, written by Lynn Marie Macy as well, may do very well on the college campus that wants to bring an era to life for an hour, but as a piece of literature or drama, it needs stronger shape and bolder development. Perhaps the play ultimately accomplishes its purpose -- it makes the viewer want to see John Dryden and the original Nell Gwyn in action.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

Return to Volume Five, Number Four Index

Return to Volume Five Index

Return to Home Page

Copyright 1998 James A. Lopata