Some families seem to burst forth with artistic talent. The Brontes, for example: three sisters, all of them geniuses. Or, for a more modern example, the Sedarises, Amy and David, are both prolifically talented artists.
Sadly, the Byrons do not appear to be one of those families.
H.J. Byron, the author of Our Boys, is distinctly lacking in the literary genius of his distant cousin Lord Byron. Though funny at times, the play only rarely reaches a level above of mild amusement, and the constant asides grate but add little.
A tragically predictable Victorian farce, the play follows the exploits of “our boys”: two Victorian gentlemen of disparate parentage who find themselves in love with “unsuitable” ladies, and the fathers who try to control them.
In The Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s production, Rameen Chaharbaghi was the clear standout as the noble son Talbot Champneys. Outfitted in a foppishly too-tight suit (beautifully designed by the obviously talented Denise Young), he minces his way across the stage in a delightfully cutting portrait of the brainless British aristocracy, like a slightly more inbred Bertie Wooster. Deftly walking the line between sympathetic and satire, Chaharbaghi is possibly worth the price of admission all by himself.
by H.J. Byron
at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church – Mountain
900 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
Also worth special mention is Sally Frakes Cusenza as Talbot’s spinster sister, a sensible woman who brings life to the stage during each of her (too brief) appearances. The rest of the cast is solid but clearly struggling with the dialect; if they could have just dropped the accents, they might have been less believable as English, but more believable as people.
Unfortunately, it was not just the accents standing in the actor’s way. Felicity Ann Brown’s direction was often awkward; actors were consistently blocked directly by other actors, and required to execute ridiculous movement clearly in the vein of “my director told me to get to here, so I guess I have to”. Granted, the cast was large for so small a stage, but no actor should ever be forced to edge desperately sideways in order to be seen.
I appreciate Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s devotion to bringing attention to forgotten works of theater. Unfortunately, some plays are forgotten for a reason. If you want a taste of Victorian art, stick to H. J. Byron’s more talented cousin, and leave H. J. where he belongs – in the past.