By David Grimm
Directed by Howard Shalwitz
Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
If David Grimm attended Woolly Mammoth’s production of his Measure for Pleasure he would definitely be pleased. His work, a Restoration romp updated with modern sensibilities and free from the restraints of good taste, gets a lively staging from an energetic cast and a fine production crew. The result is ample measures of laughter in an entertaining comic adventure.
The play is set in 1751 and concerns the romantic couplings of a host of nobles and servants. Sir Peter Lustforth (Doug Brown) is bored with his wife Lady Vanity (Jennifer Mendenhall) and desires the tempting young virgin Hermione Goode (Kimberly Gilbert). Obstacles to his pursuit include Hermione’s strict guardian, Dame Stickle (Kimberly Schraf) and a friendly rival, Captain Dick Dashwood (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend).
Hermione has rejected Dashwood because of his notorious reputation, so he decides to fake his own death in order to prove to her that he is capable of changing his libidinous lifestyle. That change, however, may have to wait as he considers a final dalliance with the household’s new chambermaid, the transgendered former prostitute Molly Tawdry (Andrew Honeycutt). This flirtation infuriates Will Blunt (Joel Reuben Ganz), a household servant who has saved Molly from the streets because he wants Molly for himself.
The play utilizes all of the classic techniques of farce, including deceptions and disguises, mistaken identities, mismatched lovers, the threat of an arranged marriage, a deadly duel, and some wonderfully outrageous plot twists. Grimm has the gift for clever wordplay, frequently resulting in mischievous sexual double-entendres that are too risqué to be repeated here, and occasionally adding dialogue in rhymed couplets. The result is an hilarious play that will feel familiar to veteran theatergoers, but which benefits from the freedom to go far beyond the boundaries of the historical comedies Grimm lovingly apes.
A gifted cast gives its all to make the wordplay and the action work, and it almost always succeeds. Ganz is a standout as Will Blunt, a comic dolt (the only two books he has read are the Bible and a matchbook) who gets the evening off to an amusing start with an original pre-show advisory speech. Jennifer Mendenhall is hilarious both in her initial vanity (she believes herself cursed to be graced with a face that causes men to suffer) and her later drunk spell (when she realizes the suffering is from revulsion, not attraction). Kimberly Schraf is a wonderfully severe scold concerning the local “swamp of moral slime” until late in the show, when her puritanical bearing is tested by an unintentional visit to a sex club.
The heart of the show is Kimberly Gilbert’s spot on portrayal of the young ingénue Hermione. Her performance is appealing and just realistic enough to keep grounded a show that risks running off the comic rails. She makes a nice foil for the talented company of comic actors.
Director Howard Shalwitz effectively juggles the multiple plots and keeps the comedy rolling. Special praise goes to costume designer Helen Q. Huang, whose outrageous outfits featuring a mishmash of contrasting pieces (often in day-glo colors) draw applause and laughter all on their own.
As entertaining as the play is, the playwright’s work is sometimes uneven. The humor ranges from naughty to outright raunchy, and the heavy-handed sex jokes start to get old before their raucous resolution. The tone is occasionally inconsistent, especially with regard to Sir Peter’s brutish treatment of his wife. The action tends to drag at times, and the second act starts too slowly before resolving all of the stories with the requisite happy endings.
Nonetheless, these are minor quibbles with a show that is genuinely funny for most of the evening. The cast was so entertaining that the audience frequently laughed at their delivery alone even before the comic double-entendres registered.
You should be aware that this show’s language includes both the “f word” and the “c word” (and I don’t mean fun and comedy, although they are also present). Semi-explicit sexual acts are also part of the entertainment. As Molly states, however, “There’s more to me than a good shag.” The same sentiment applies to the show.
- Running Time: 2:40 (one intermission).
- Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC 20004.
- When: Through June 29. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m.
- Tickets: $35-$57. For tickets, call 202-383-3939 or go to the website