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They say: “Laughs, romance and a tinge of steampunk fantasy are on view in W.S. Gilbert’s farce. Ever wish you could erase someone from your life? The lovestruck Foggerty does, aided by an unconventional fairy godmother. He soon wishes he hadn’t.”
Sophia’s Take: Once upon a time, before Back to the Future, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and countless other time/space continuum-warping stories, the concept of a character jumping between alternate realities was original. Who knew that W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame was among the first to try it? His Foggerty’s Fairy, staged for Cap Fringe by the Victorian Lyric Opera Company, debuted in 1881. (H.G. Wells published the The Time Machine in 1895.)
Gilbert’s hero, Frederick Foggerty, is engaged to his childhood love, Jennie Talbot. The problem with Jennie is that she insists on marrying a man who has never loved before; a fellow in whom only she has ever inspired the slightest feeling of love. Foggerty is pretending he has no past, but of course he does. He has an unattractive dowager of an ex-fiance, Delia Spiff, played with flair by the (in-real-life) young and pretty Christina Postolowski. He never really loved her, but this is 1880 and an engagement is a binding contract.
When Spiff arrives on the wedding day to press her prior claim, Foggerty’s desperation conjures the fairy godmother with a time-altering draught that he never knew he had. (This is still Victorian London, so she is a fairy with a draught — not a man with a machine or a time-traveling DeLorean.) Foggerty and his Fairy Rebecca “spiff out” Delia Spiff’s existence in his life, which of course has terrible and farcical consequences.
Director Felicity Ann Brown admits in her notes that the audience of 1881 found the whole idea so ridiculous the original show was a flop. The hurdle for Brown and her cast is that what came too soon for the Victorians, arrives, for a modern audience, too late. Gilbert didn’t work out the particulars of “what this might really be like” in a manner remotely approaching how thoroughly writers in the following century would imagine the concept.
As Foggerty, Frederick DuPuy is talented and game. Yet his efforts to lead the audience on Foggerty’s journey as he struggles to comprehend his new reality are derailed by the fact that we’re way ahead of his character from the get go. I ended up rooting for DuPuy more than Foggerty, because he alone carries the burden of playing through Gibert’s experiment. Everyone else lives as in an old-fashioned drawing room farce.
As a farce, the show offers many moments of laughter, but not as many as it could. The issue, once again, is timing. John Barclay Burns, as Talbot, and Richard Gorbutt, as Walkinshaw, are dexterous with Gilbert’s witty banter, but generally the cast never hits a consistent stride. In one beat the joke lands, in the very next it falls flat, so the stakes never escalate.
As for the promised “tinge of steampunk fantasy,” tinge is the operative word here. That aesthetic is represented in the production by no more than Fairy Rebecca’s short black outfit and corset belt. Otherwise, the charismatic Casey Keeler‘s Fairy Rebecca is an energizing presence whose scenes are too few.
We all desire to escape the confines of a linear experience of time, and we look to our creative arts to help us imagine the possibilities. Foggerty’s Fairy is one of theater’s early responses to this, and there is intellectual pleasure to be taken in seeing the fitful start of a hugely popular plot device.
See it if: You want to take in a 19th century playright’s early stab at the now-ubiquitous time-travel genre.
Skip it if: The hope of a steampunked-out production was the only draw.