Comedy of Manners

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Plays

Hay Fever

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Hay Fever, one of the best-loved of all Coward’s plays, was reckoned by Tyrone Guthrie to have ‘as good a chance of immortality as any works of an author now living’. This comic masterpiece, first performed in June, 1925, has survived the years beyond even Guthrie’s glowing prediction.

Hay Fever tells the story of a busy weekend at a country house, where each member of the Bliss family has invited a guest to stay, without informing anyone else. Judith, a recently retired actress contemplating a swift return to the stage, has invited her young admirer Sandy Tyrell, who believes he is in for a romantic tryst with an unattached beauty. Judith’s husband David is working on the last chapter of his novel The Sinful Woman, and has invited the sweet ingénue Jackie Coryton to keep him company, and perhaps provide fertile ground for research. Not to be outdone, brother and sister Simon and Sorel have each invited an older lover, Myra Arundel and Richard Greatham respectively, each one anticipating having the house, and their lover, to themselves.

Instead, all four guests are forced into close quarters with the four members of the host family, each one more eccentric than the last. Parlour games turn to rancour; romantic alliances split and reform with flippant ease, recalling at once the dry wit of Wilde and the carnivalesque atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Saturday evening climaxes into a clamour of melodrama, each of the invited guests begin to rue ever accepting an invitation from the inimitable Blisses.

audio Hay Fever

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

A country house weekend goes haywire when the guests and their hosts play a game of romantic musical chairs. A most delightful madcap comedy.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Tate Donovan, Arabella Field, Joy Gregory, Jeffrey Jones, Lynne Marta, Serena Scott Thomas, Carolyn Seymour, Eric Stoltz and Simon Templeman.

Featuring: Tate Donovan, Arabella Field, Joy Gregory, Jeffrey Jones, Lynne Marta, Serena Scott Thomas, Carolyn Seymour, Eric Stoltz, Simon Templeman

audio An Ideal Husband

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

A tender love story, a serpentine villainess, a glittering setting in London society and a shower of Wildean witticisms are only a few of the reasons this play has enjoyed hugely successful revivals in London and New York. This 1895 drama also seems eerily prescient, as it explores the plight of a promising young politician, desperate to hide a secret in his past. With empathy and wit, Wilde explores the pitfalls of holding public figures to higher standards than the rest of us.

Includes an interview with Michael Hackett, the Chair of the Department of Theater at the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition to his extensive directorial work for L.A. Theatre Works - which includes plays by Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, and Noel Coward - Michael has directed for the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; the Royal Theatre at the Hague; and the Los Angeles Opera. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Rosalind Ayres as Lady Gertrude Chiltern Jacqueline Bisset as Mrs. Cheveley Paul Gutrecht as Vicomte de Nanjac Martin Jarvis as Sir Robert Chiltern Robert Machray as Phipps Miriam Margolyes as Lady Markby Alfred Molina as Lord Goring Jim Norton as Lord Caversham Yeardley Smith as Mabel Chiltern Directed by Michael Hackett.

Featuring: Rosalind Ayres, Jacqueline Bisset, Paul Gutrecht, Martin Jarvis, Robert Machray, Miriam Margolyes, Alfred Molina, Jim Norton, Yeardley Smith

audio The Importance of Being Earnest

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

This final play from the pen of Oscar Wilde is a stylish send-up of Victorian courtship and manners, complete with assumed names, mistaken lovers, and a lost handbag. Jack and Algernon are best friends, both wooing ladies who think their names are Ernest, “that name which inspires absolute confidence.” Wilde’s effervescent wit, scathing social satire, and high farce make this one of the most cherished plays in the English language.

Includes an interview with director Michael Hackett, Professor of Theater in the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA.

An L.A. Theatre Works full cast performance featuring: James Marsters as Jack Charles Busch as Lady Bracknell Emily Bergl as Cecily Neil Dickson as Lane and Merriman Jill Gascoine as Miss Prism Christopher Neame as Chasuble Matthew Wolf as Algernon Sarah Zimmerman as Gwendolen

Directed by Michael Hackett. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Emily Bergl, Charles Busch, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, James Marsters, Christopher Neame, Matthew Wolf, Sarah Zimmerman

Includes an interview with director Michael Hackett, Professor of Theater in the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA.

An L.A. Theatre Works full cast performance featuring: James Marsters as Jack Charles Busch as Lady Bracknell Emily Bergl as Cecily Neil Dickson as Lane and Merriman Jill Gascoine as Miss Prism Christopher Neame as Chasuble Matthew Wolf as Algernon Sarah Zimmerman as Gwendolen

Directed by Michael Hackett. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Emily Bergl, Charles Busch, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, James Marsters, Christopher Neame, Matthew Wolf, Sarah Zimmerman

Includes an interview with director Michael Hackett, Professor of Theater in the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: James Marsters as Jack Charles Busch as Lady Bracknell Emily Bergl as Cecily Neil Dickson as Lane and Merriman Jill Gascoine as Miss Prism Christopher Neame as Chasuble Matthew Wolf as Algernon Sarah Zimmerman as Gwendolen Directed by Michael Hackett. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Emily Bergl, Charles Busch, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, James Marsters, Christopher Neame, Matthew Wolf, Sarah Zimmerman

The Importance of Being Earnest (New Mermaids)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is presented here in the New Mermaids series, complete with its scholarly annotation and context.

Wilde’s ‘trivial play for serious people’, a sparkling comedy of manners, is the epitome of wit and style. The play employs and parodies the conventions of romance, farce and melodrama: identities are discovered, long lost family ties reinstated, and coincidences are savoured.

John (‘Jack’) Worthing lives in the country with his ward Cecily, and her governess, Miss Prism. There he is an exemplary character, a sober and upright member of the community and a Justice of the Peace. But he spends as much time as he can in London, claiming that he has a scapegrace of a younger brother, Ernest, whose frequent scrapes call for Jack’s attendance in town. There, Jack is known to his friends – including Algernon Moncrieff – as Ernest. Algernon, as it happens, has invented a permanent invalid called Bunbury, whose frequent crises of health give Algernon an excuse to gallivanting round the country. When Algernon turns up at Jack’s country house, claiming to be ‘Ernest’, and Jack arrives to announce the death of his dissipated brother, their double lives begin to catch up with them.

The verbal brilliance of the play's highly self-conscious characters hides deep anxieties about social and personal identity. This neatly constructed satire, with its celebrated characters and much quoted dialogue, turns accepted ideas inside out and is generally regarded as Wilde’s masterpiece.

audio Lady Windermere's Fan

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

The irreverent satire that launched Wilde’s succession of classical comedies. A Lord, his wife, her admirer and an infamous blackmailer converge in this delicious comic feast of scandal. A divinely funny comedy of good girls, bad husbands and the moral hypocrisy of British high society in the late nineteenth century.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Gina Field as Lady Agatha Carlisle Judy Geeson as Lady Plymdale Joanna Going as Lady Windermere Arthur Hanket as Mr. Cecil Graham Lisa Harrow as Mrs. Erlynne Dominic Keating as Mr. Hopper Miriam Margolyes as The Duchess of Berwick Roger Rees as Lord Windermere Eric Stoltz as Lord Darlington James Warwick as Lord Augustus Lorton Tom Wheatley as Parker Directed by Michael Hackett. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

Featuring: Gina Field, Judy Geeson, Joanna Going, Arthur Hanket, Lisa Harrow, Dominic Keating, Miriam Margolyes, Roger Rees, Eric Stoltz, James Warwick, Tom Wheatley

video Lady Windermere’s Fan (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

With its author's trademark wit, social satire and outrageous paradox, Wilde’s play shows us the destructiveness of gossip and superficial judgement, and examines the ambiguous sexual morality and gender politics at the heart of the British ruling class. Lady Windermere has a happy marriage – or, at least, that’s what she believes – until one of London’s society gossips, the Duchess of Berwick, arrives with her daughter to voice her suspicions about an affair. Wilde’s exploration of adultery results in a sparkling, satirical critique of society, and of the hypocrisy that lurks behind the etiquette and perfect epigrams.

Credits:

Director: Tony Smith; Producer: Louis Marks; Playwright: Oscar Wilde; Designer: Don Taylor (1936-2003); Costume Designer: Phoebe de Gaye; Introduced by: Stephanie Turner; Script Editor: David Snodin. Cast: Ian Burford: Parker, John Clive: Mr Dumby, Gloria Connell: Mrs Cowper-Cowper, Kenneth Cranham: Lord Darlington, Diana Fairfax: Lady Jedburgh, Sara Kestelman: Duchess of Berwick Mary Kurowski: Rosalie, Robert Lang: Lord Augustus Lorton, Veronica Lang: Lady Plymdale, Helena Little: Lady Windermere Vivien Lloyd: Lady Stutfield, Geoff Morrell: Mr Hopper, Amanda Royle: Lady Agatha Carlisle, James Saxon: Cecil Graham, Stephanie Turner: Mrs Erlynne, Tim Woodward: Lord Windermere

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

audio The Liar

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

The Liar by Pierre Corneille, translated by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Martin Jarvis.

In this classic farce, a young man pretends to be a war hero to impress a pretty girl. As his lies progress, so do his troubles – with hilarious results. Playwright Pierre Corneille’s comedy of manners is considered a groundbreaking work which influenced contemporaries such as the young Molière.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast production, starring Tara Lynne Barr, Janine Barris, Sue Cremin, Danny Mann, Christopher Neame, John Sloan, Mark Sullivan, and Matthew Wolf

Includes a conversation about Corneille and French drama with Larry F. Norman of the University of Chicago.

Lead funding for this production is provided by the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.

Featuring: Tara Barr, Janine Barris, Sue Cremin, Danny Mann, Christopher Neame, John Sloan, Mark Sullivan, Matthew Wolf

Nude With Violin

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When world-famous painter Paul Sorodin dies it is, for his friends, a tragedy, but for the world, a catastrophe. Adding to the trauma of the loss it seems, at first, that the master left no will, meaning his wife, estranged from the great man for more than twenty years, is set to pocket his entire lucrative estate, the proceeds from a lifetime of producing renowned and valuable art.

However, Sorodin's bereaved friend and valet Sebastien does produce a will, sent to him personally by the great painter, which states unequivocally that while his estate will go to his wife, that estate is worth nothing – for Sorodin was a life-long and inveterate fraud who never painted a picture in his life.

Written originally as a vehicle for Sir John Gielgud who directed and starred in the play's premiere at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 1956, Nude with Violin is a light comedy of manners that reflects on the nature of art and its value, and cost, to society.

Present Laughter

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Present Laughter is witty, sparkling and eminently theatrical; its star is matinée idol Garry Essendine, suave, hedonistic and too old, says his wife, to be having numerous affairs. His line in eager, adoring debutantes is largely tolerated among his small circle of intimate friends, but playing closer to home is not. Just before he escapes on tour to Africa, the curtain is drawn back on a whole tangle of his misdemeanours.

In between hustling infatuated conquests out of sight into the spare room, Garry gives a dazzling performance, centre stage in a light, charming, farcical comedy.

Arguably the most autobiographical of his plays, Present Laughter provided a perfect platform for Coward’s talents, both directing and starring as Garry. It was first performed in 1942 at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool.

A comedy of manners is a form of sophisticated comedy, usually set among the fashionable upper classes, in which the characters’ machinations are veiled by their elegant manners and elaborate repartee. The genre can be traced back to the Greek New Comedy but in its modern form was essentially created by Molière in such plays as Les Précieuses ridicules (1658) and Le Médecin malgré lui (1666). In England the genre flowered after the Restoration, following the success of George Etherege’s The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub (1664). English-language examples include Wycherley’s The Gentleman Dancingmaster (1671), Vanbrugh’s The Provok’d Wife (1697), Congreve’s The Way of the World (1700), Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707), Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer (1773), and Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (1777). The elegant wit of the comedy of manners was revived in the late 19th century by Oscar Wilde in such plays as Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). In the 20th century some of the plays of Noël Coward, such as Private Lives (1930), belong to this genre.

from Jonathan Law ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011)