In-Person & Streaming
by JOHN VANBRUGH
RECORDED LIVE MONDAY, October 24, 2022
Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater
at Symphony Space
This event premiered LIVE in person on October 24, 2022. The performance was simulcast. The recording was available for streaming-on-demanduntil Sunday, October 30 at 11:59 PM ET.
Directed by Marc Vietor
Featuring MaYaa Boateng, Arnie Burton, Christian DeMarais, Stephen DeRosa, Jesse Epstein, Jacob Ming-Trent, Jay Myers, Amelia Pedlow, Reg Rogers, Chauncy Thomas, Michael Urie and Arielle Yoder
This reading is sponsored, in part, by DEB and JAY BAUM
The Relapse is a riotous Restoration comedy subtitled Virtue in Danger. A reformed rake succumbs to temptation with a new love affair while his wife is subjected to a determined seduction attempt. Meanwhile, the fabulous Lord Foppington flamboyantly flirts about town before leaving to marry a country wife – but his rakish brother is determined to get there first.
The Relapse was written in 1696 by John Vanbrugh as a sequel to Colley Cibber’s comedy Love’s Last Shift (1696).
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Amanda, wife to Loveless | Arielle Yoder
Berinthia, her cousin, a young widow | Amelia Pedlow
Miss Hoyden, daughter of Sir Tunbelly | MaYaa Boateng
Nurse (and more), her governant | Jesse Epstein
Sir Novelty Fashion, newly created Lord Foppington | Michael Urie
Young Tom Fashion, his brother | Chauncy Thomas
Loveless, husband to Amanda | Reg Rogers
Worthy, a gentleman of the town | Christian Demarais
Sir Tunbelly Clumsey, a country gentleman | Jacob Ming Trent
Sir John Friendly, his neighbor | Stephen DeRosa
Coupler, a matchmaker | Stephen DeRosa
Lory, servant to Young Fashion | Arnie Burton
Bull (and more), chaplain to Sir Tunbelly | Jay Myers
Director | Marc Vietor
Stage Manager | Jenn McNeil
Assistant Stage Manager | Jessica Fornear
Video Services | Hello World Communications
Producing Director | Nathan Winkelstein
General Manager | Sherri Kotimsky
A VIDEO INTRODUCTION
ABOUT THE PLAY
The Relapse, or, Virtue in Danger (1696) was written in response to Colley Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift, or, The Fool in Fashion. Cibber’s play is often referred to as a Restoration Comedy for the first four acts and a Sentimental Comedy in the fifth act when Loveless, the philandering husband, repents, thanks to an extraordinary “shift” or trick, in which his abandoned wife impersonates a high-class whore and wins him back following a night of exquisite sexual pleasure. In this reversal, the patient wife’s virtue penetrates the wayward husband’s (basically decent) heart and brings about the sentimental conversion.
Vanbrugh wrote The Relapse in six weeks after seeing Cibber’s play to address what he considered to be an unconvincing depiction of the reformation of Loveless. He added a new character, Berinthia, who fashions her own notions of desire following a typically “loveless” arranged marriage. While the patient wife Amanda still manages to retain her virtue and persuade her aggressive suitor, Worthy, of the greater good of faithfulness, at the very same moment, in the very same house, Berinthia is seducing the unreformed Loveless away from Amanda – or rather they are happily seducing each other though the play of erotic medical terms: she offers to give him ‘ease’; he is ready to lay his ‘case’ before her. As Loveless bears her into her closet, she protests: (Very softly): “Help! Help! I’m ravished! Ruined! Undone! Oh Lord, I shall never be able to bear it.”
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, economic and political power began to shift from the aristocracy to the burgeoning middle class with increased attention devoted to values of religion, morality, and conventional depictions of gender. Likewise, the theater moved away from Restoration comedy’s sexual frankness toward the more conservative postures of sentimental comedy. This “bloodless revolution” reinforced a puritan, anti-theatrical prejudice, expressed most virulently in Jeremy Collier’s attack on the theater, A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698), in which he condemned Vanbrugh’s play for its explicit sexuality and defense of women’s rights in marriage. Vanbrugh responded with a comic defense, but public opinion was already trending away from Restoration style. Playwrights adopted Collier’s criticisms and embraced the new sentimental ethic; the Act V tears of Loveless in Cibber’s play spelled the end of Restoration Comedy.
Before its demise, however, we have the pleasure of meeting perhaps the greatest of all Restoration fops in the subplot of The Relapse: Sir Novelty Fashion, from Cibber’s play, has bought himself a title and is now Lord Foppington, with Cibber himself reprising his role. After his younger brother steals his intended bride (and more importantly, her substantial dowry), Foppington’s imperturbable selfishness allows him to weather all humiliations: “I think the wisest thing a man can do with an aching heart is to put on a serene countenance; for a philosophical air is the most becoming thing in the world to the face of a person of quality.”
Although Lord Foppington may seem "very industrious to pass for an ass," he is also a superb embodiment of the Restoration code, where freedom of choice remains absolute: to preserve the integrity of the self, one must avoid all constricting social definitions – be they husband, wife, brother or sister. The code is also Epicurean: since sensations of pleasure and pain are the ultimate measures of good and evil, pleasure should be actively pursued. During his astonishing levee, Foppington describes his day: “My life is a perpetual stream of pleasure, that glides through such a variety of entertainments, I believe the wisest of our ancestors never had the least conception of any of ‘em.” Here, at the end of the century, this not-so-witless fop offers a particularly pleasurable eulogy to a very robust era in theatrical history.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), playwright, theater manager, and architect, was the eldest surviving son of twenty (!) children of a London cloth-merchant of Flemish descent. A committed Whig, he supported the armed invasion of William of Orange, the deposition of James II, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was arrested in France, charged with espionage, and imprisoned for four years. His two best-known plays, The Relapse and The Provok’d Wife, were very successful and remained in the repertoire for seventy-five years. Vanbrugh designed and built the Haymarket Theatre, which he managed along with William Congreve and the actor Thomas Betterton. Their intent was to improve conditions for actors, which had deteriorated under the monopoly on theater production held by the United Company under the unscrupulous management of Christopher Rich, and to compete with other increasingly popular forms of entertainment: pantomime, juggling, animal acts and traveling opera companies. Vanbrugh also designed Blenheim Palace, even though he had no formal training as an architect. The Duke of Marlborough met him at the theater (or at the Kit-Kat-Club, a social club for prominent Whigs) and was so charmed he offered him the job. The Duchess, however, was unhappy with the choice. She wanted Sir Christopher Wren, architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and criticized the extravagance of Vanbrugh’s design. At age 55, Vanbrugh married a woman half his age. He was knighted in 1714
–KATHLEEN DIMMICK, dramaturg