Cameron Feagin will star as
Lady Gay Spanker
“That despicable mass in inanity”
-Edgar Allan Poe’s description of London Assurance
But then, is there a goofy comedy you would expect Edgar Allan Poe to like? Despite Poe’s opinion, Dion Boucicault’s London Assurance is a towering high point in the generally bleak landscape of mid-19th Century comedy. Most plays of that period are, not to put too fine a point on it, bad; perhaps the only comedy from then the title of which most of us could recognize off the top of our heads might be Our American Cousin, which is remembered not for its slender merits but rather for a disturbance that happened in the audience one night.
Boucicault’s play, on the other hand, is the well-built bridge between the great comedies of manners from the late 18th Century, like Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals (City Lit production directed by Page Hearn, 2004) and Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer (City Lit production directed by me, 2002) and the equally great comedies of the 1890s, such as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (City Lit production directed by Kevin Theis, 2002).
Wilde in fact was heavily influenced by London Assurance, written thirteen years before he was born: Boucicault’s device of having one of his characters be known by one name in the city and another in the country would become the central idea of Earnest, and the kind of sparkling paradox-filled dialogue of which Wilde would become the master finds its prototype in Assurance. When Boucicault’s heroine, Grace Harkaway, says of the men in the play, “I am afraid they are getting too pleasant to be agreeable,” it could just as easily be the voice of Earnest’s Gwendolyn or Cecily discussing Jack and Algernon. And her observation that “Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them” would fit comfortably in the mouth of Wilde’s Lady Bracknell herself.
London Assurance’s most famous character is without a doubt the gloriously named Lady Gay Spanker, horse-riding fox hunter who enters in her leather-trimmed hunting suit wielding a riding crop, and goes on to complicate the already complicated romantic entanglements of the play. I am so very pleased that City Lit’s Lady Gay will be played by Cameron Feagin, returning home to City Lit after too long an absence.
Cameron and I first worked together in 1999, on a hit production of Michael Frayne’s farce Noises Off that played at Theatre Building Chicago. She has acted at City Lit frequently, most memorably as Lady Macbeth and as Amanda in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, for which she scored a Jeff nomination for Best Actress in a Lead Role. (Fun Fact to Know and Tell: Amanda and Elyot in Coward’s play use “Solomon Isaacs” as a safe word during their frequently violent arguments; Solomon Isaacs is a character in London Assurance.) It has been a few years since Cameron worked here on a full production, though some of you have seen her in a couple of our more recent P. G. Wodehouse concert readings. I have wanted to see Cameron play Lady Gay ever since I first read the play, and I made sure she was available to do so before I scheduled the play into our season.
I mentioned in curtain speeches during the run of I’ve Got the World on a String that, although there have been fairly frequent productions of London Assurance in both New York and London over the decades, ours will be the first Chicago production of the play since 1897. One of the things we love to do at City Lit is produce wonderful plays that other theatres have forgotten about, such as the Jerome Kern musical Oh Boy! which we spent two years reconstructing because even the publisher didn’t have a complete version, and the first production in over fifty years—anywhere, as far as we could find out—of Augustus Thomas’s The Copperhead. Like those were, our London Assurance will be the only show like it in Chicago. Don’t miss it.
thanks for everything,