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David Garrick & George Colman the Elder's

MONDAY, JUNE 18, 2018 AT 7:30 PM

Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St.)



Directed by Marc Vietor


Featuring Scott Aiello, Mark Linn-Baker, Nick Choksi, Dana Ivey,  Claire Karpen, Talene Monahon, Reg Rogers , Ryan Spahn, Katy Sullivan, Dina Thomas and C.J. Wilson


Wealthy merchant Mr. Sterling tries to better his social standing by marrying his eldest daughter Betsy to Sir John Melvil. Just one problem: Melvil is in love with the younger daughter Fanny, who happens to be secretly married to the humble clerk, Lovewell. And it’s up to Lovewell to convince Melvil to look elsewhere. Set in the finely landscaped garden of Sterling’s country home, it’s effervescent comedy of manners at its finest—co-authored by David Garrick, famed actor-manager-playwright of London’s great Drury Lane Theatre, where the play first delighted audiences.


The OBIE Award-Winning Revelation Readings series provides a unique opportunity to hear rarely-produced classic plays performed by many of the finest actors in New York. Casting subject to change.



David Garrick (1717-1779) is considered the greatest actor of the eighteenth century. Brought to London by his friend and mentor Samuel Johnson in 1737, he started a wine business with his brother that proved unsuccessful. He took on small roles until 1741, when his performance as Richard III caused a sensation — his acting characterized by a naturalism that rejected the declamatory style prevalent at the time. As Thomas Davies, his friend and biographer noted, he “banished ranting, bombast, and grimace and restored nature, ease, simplicity and genuine humor.” Diderot revised his conception of the art of acting after he saw him perform. Garrick continued with notable performances as King Lear (which he modeled on the behavior of a lunatic) and in Otway’s Venice Preserve’d and Buckingham’s The Rehearsal, taking on a total of eighteen roles in just six months. He appeared at Drury Lane Theatre in 1742 and retained his connection with that theater for thirty-four years as leading actor, manager, joint owner, and co-author of over twenty plays.

George Colman (1732-1794) studied at Lincoln’s Inn and was admitted to the bar but, despite the opposition of his family, began to write for the stage. His early plays met with great success, especially The Jealous Wife and The Clandestine Marriage. He wrote or adapted thirty-five plays and managed Covent Garden and Haymarket Theaters. His son, known as George Colman the Younger, was also a noted playwright.




The Clandestine Marriage (1766) was inspired by Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode (1745), a series of six satirical paintings depicting the disastrous results of arranged marriages driven by money. The first plate, The Marriage Settlement, shows one such marriage between the son of a bankrupt Earl and the daughter of a wealthy, title-hungry city merchant — darker prototypes for characters in the play.


The issue of arranged marriages held considerable potency in English culture at the time, as the Marriage Act of 1753 tightened the existing ecclesiastical rules regarding marriage. The law was enacted to prevent clandestine marriages, which were seen as a threat to the preservation of aristocratic privilege: the fear that shameless middle-class girls would seduce vulnerable aristos, threatening their fortunes and titled inheritance and further eroding the distinctions between aristocratic and mercantile wealth.


It’s this very erosion of class privilege that propels the frothy exuberance that characterizes the period, as the aristocracy loses significance to the newly prosperous and increasingly literate middle class. The novel becomes the representative genre of the century, with the profound optimism of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the bitter satire of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels defining the age.


In the theater, the power of the middle class registers in the development of sentimental comedy, moving away from the bracing amorality of Restoration theater. The mercantile class now wants to see itself on stage and demands a flattering reflection of its bourgeois success. Gone is the excoriating depiction of Hobbesian self-interest in the earlier comedy of manners; now audiences want to embrace the accomplishments of the middle class. In this new sentimental comedy “the virtues of private life are exhibited rather than the vices exposed … flattering every man in his favorite foible,” as Oliver Goldsmith notes in his essay A Comparison between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy (1772). The spectator pardons and applauds the characters’ faults because of “the goodness of their hearts;” they may lack humor but possess an abundance of sentiment and feeling, so that folly, instead of being ridiculed, is commended.

The Clandestine Marriage reflects many of the sentimental elements of the period:  Fanny, the virtuous, “fainting heroine”; Lovewell, the “man of feeling”; and Lord Ogleby (the role designed for Garrick himself), whose fifth act expression of “good heartedness” reverses his persona in the previous four acts as a lively descendant of the Restoration fop. But the play also includes elements of “laughing” comedy in the farcical servants and the self-congratulatory nouveaux riches — angling sentimental comedy in a laughing direction.



The merchant Sterling is determined to gain entrance to the aristocracy by marrying his elder daughter Elizabeth to Sir John Melvil, nephew to Lord Ogleby. When Melvil and Ogleby visit Sterling’s estate to settle the contract, Melvil unexpectedly shifts his affection to Sterling’s younger daughter, Fanny, enraging her sister, who persuades their rich aunt to threaten their father with disinheritance unless the original marriage contract is fulfilled. All this while, Fanny has been secretly married to Lovewell, Sterling’s clerk, a distant relative of Lord Ogleby; they have been waiting for the right moment to tell her father of the marriage. In an effort to straighten things out, Fanny appeals to Lord Ogleby for assistance, but Ogleby, in his fatuous vanity, mistakes her suit, believing that he is the object of Fanny’s passion. A final, desperate revelation of the marriage resolves the confusion, with the aid of the benevolent Lord Ogleby — the role intended for David Garrick.



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