Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
In coming back from a year-long production hiatus, Washington Stage Guild, which usually serves up delectable chestnuts by the likes of Shaw, Molnar, and Feydeau, has changed its menu ever so slightly. In an attractively tufted box (the cozy Undercroft Theatre, tucked under the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church), the company is this time serving up an ornamented bonbon—a world premiere that still tastes of chestnut (and has a certified nutcase at its center) but is otherwise freshly minted. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Oscar Wilde’s mystery novella involving free will, anarchists, social niceties, and chiromancy, is laced with enough dialogue to suggest that Wilde might briefly have considered putting it on the stage. But in adapting it, WSG artistic director Bill Largess has also had to incorporate whole pages of acerbic description, finding ways to hoist by various linguistic petards a social set Wilde generally allows to be hoisted by its own. The story begins when soon-to-be-wed Lord Arthur (played by James Konicek with a quietly uproarious blankness that slowly turns manic) has his palm read and is told he’ll soon be a murderer. Feeling he has no right to marry until he’s put the killing behind him, Lord Arthur postpones the wedding and searches both for an acquaintance whose premature departure might not seriously inconvenience anyone, and for a method. Poison? Exploding clocks? Largess has been clever in turning Wildean character descriptions into dialogue (“she discovered the important truth that nothing looks so like innocence as an indiscretion”). And if he’s not quite made a persuasive case for the piece’s stageworthiness, he’s at least got it up and bustling. Contributing liveliness are WSG stalwarts Lynn Steinmetz (as Lady Windermere, though not the one with the fan), Laura Giannarelli (in a variety of wigs), Vincent Clark (in a variety of accents), David Bryan Jackson (with a variety of tics) and Tricia McCauley (in breeches at one point) who’re having a high old time as the folks who complicate Lord Arthur’s attempts to live up to the creases in his palm. If, as the title character’s elder brother, R. Scott Williams seems an antebellum plantation owner unaccountably set down among Brits, grant that he has a trickier task than the rest: filling a role that feels tailor-made for Largess himself. Even the most protean thespian has limits, however, and if Largess has here contented himself merely with conceiving, writing, adapting, directing, and demonstrating where the Wilde things are, audiences will simply have to make do.