THE SWANNE: PRINCESS CHARLOTTE (THE ACTS OF VENUS ) written and directed by Peter Hinton, with Diane D'Aquila, Steve Cumyn, Julia Donovan, Dion Johnstone, Sean Olagunju, Karen Robinson, Jane Spidell, Maria Vacratsis and Scott Wentworth. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Studio Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to September 28. $50-$57.50. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The Swanne is a kissing cousin to Tony Kushner's monumental Angels In America, both in its scope and in its political concerns, large and small. Peter Hinton 's three-part play - Stratford is currently presenting the second instalment, Princess Charlotte (The Acts Of Venus) - hypothesizes that the soon-to-be Queen Victoria discovers that she's not the rightful heir to the throne of England. The true ruler is a black boy born illicitly to the Princess Charlotte and her black valet.
Like the first part, Hinton's script travels back and forth in time and theatrical styles, sometimes mixing several in a single scene. One of its key motifs, in fact, is the power of theatre and its place in the first half of the 19th century; on these scores the playwright is affectionate as well as satiric.
If that's not enough, Hinton tackles sexuality and love (of all sorts, and every blend of sexual partners), a revolutionary movement by the poor against a repressive, hypocritical government and the value of language in making us human.
It would take a small book to tell the entire intertwining Dickensian plot, so instead let me praise some of Hinton's large, committed group of performers.
You simply couldn't cast better than Diane D'Aquila as Mrs. Cox, the doyenne of a theatre company and later a victim of her own pride, while Jane Spidell is complex and moving as her servant Jaquenetta, and Maria Vacratsis brings salty sass to the bawd Mother Needham. Julia Donovan 's Charlotte, noble and bored, is nicely balanced by Walter Borden 's conniving Reverend Shuddas.
Scott Wentworth gives heart to St. John Voranguish, whoremaster to the nobility, and Steve Cumyn 's transvestite Queer Rue and Sean Arbuckle as his "sweetie," Alured Popple, play high-passion melodrama terrifically.
Jubilant, thrilling theatre. Can't wait for part three next year. And then, maybe, the whole cycle in rep?