ELLSWORTH — Funny, fast-paced and fabulously effete, the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine’s new production of “Patience,” which staged its delayed debut last Saturday afternoon at The Grand, is not only the perfect thing for Valentine’s Day weekend, it has all the elements necessary for a couple of hours of terrific musical entertainment.
The premise or “argument” of this preposterous tale involves a little British hamlet that has succumbed to the aesthetic charms of a poncy, poetry-spouting roué named Reginald Bunthorne (Roland Dube). Reginald appears to be an Oscar Wilde wannabe, but in truth he abhors all things witty and poetic and is putting on this charade to enchant the ladies — with great success.
Although it is likely several decades since Dube last played this demanding role, which requires that he navigate tongue-twisting patter songs, scamper about like a love-sick lad, dance a jig and declaim perfectly awful poetry, he does it all with close to the same energy and conviction of his younger, more sprightly self. Even when he gets the rare chance to be still, his facial expressions are furiously and hilariously at work.
Although Bunthorne’s antics manage to win the hearts of most of the ladies, the one he desires — the milkmaid Patience (Molly Abrams) — seems impervious, and only agrees to marry him because she has been informed that love must be totally unselfish. The man she truly loves — her childhood sweetheart and a real deal aesthetic, Archibald Grosvenor (Jason Wilkes) — is too perfect. Marrying such perfection, she reasons, would be the definition of self-interest.
As this principle-crossed pair of lovers, Abrams and Wilkes are indeed perfection. She can use her scintillating soprano to terrific comic effect warbling like a Disney bird, or deliver a ballad about love that breaks the heart. And Wilkes in his cascade of blond curls and little Lord Fauntleroy knickers, velvet jacket and floppy bow tie is almost as pretty as Patience, with a sweet, tuneful tenor to boot.
And then there are the macho men, the hapless soldiers, who were once the heartthrobs of the ladies, but are now considered crass and prosaic. Hard to imagine this as these fellows, especially tall, handsome Colonel Calverly (Joe Marshall) couldn’t look more elegant in their scarlet and gold braided uniforms. Even if Marshall didn’t have a robust baritone, that can fill the theater, he’d be a delight just to watch strutting about with his chest thrown out.
One of the funniest moments in the show is when the Colonel and his fellow soldiers Major Murgatroyd (Aiden Pasha) and the Duke (Theodore Dumas), wearing bouncy Shirley Temple wigs, contort themselves into what they hope are poses poetical enough to please the ladies.
And speaking of the ladies… costume designer Chris Dougherty has eschewed the obvious Isadora Duncan look of white-draped Grecian nymphs and makes her women look like a Frieda Kahlo convention in a Mumbai sari factory. They are a virtual explosion of color topped off with flowing locks of hair and crowns of big, fat, flowers. Gerry and Elaine Bard wisely created an effective yet minimalist set to be a perfect backdrop for this garden of gorgeous gals. It’s rather a shame when, eventually, they return to their senses and proper Victorian lady looks.
At the head of this polychromatic crew is the Lady Jane (Debra Hangge), a vision in purple — lots and lots of purple. Hangge, another 30-year-plus G&S veteran, knows exactly how to milk a role for every possible laugh and her lament “Sad is a Woman’s Lot” is a case in point. Her duet with Dube plotting the downfall of Archibald could be a tutorial for performing the quintessential G&S song and dance.
As good as it was to see these seasoned G&S performers in leads and chorus roles, it also was terrific to see some young new faces in secondary roles. In addition to Abrams — who, one hopes now that she has graduated from UMaine, will stick around long enough to play Yum Yum in the “Mikado,” or Mable in “Pirates of Penzance” — there is Dorothy Wheatcraft, Danielle Grover, Catherine Cloutier and the aforementioned Dumas and Pasha, who all did excellent work singing and acting their characters.
First-time director Leslie Michaud also worked wonders keeping the show lively and setting up some fun tableaux — especially that moment when she had all those dazzling damsels gather around Reginald perched in a cart as if he were prize pig being taken to the fair, or when Archibald is transformed into a human maypole.
John Haskell’s 20-member orchestra was excellent and somehow managed to sound robust, without overwhelming the singers. Ted Duffy’s trumpeting and Lynette Woods’ percussion earned special kudos.
The lighting by Susan Dunham Shane and Wilder Young was both subtle and superb throughout.
The really good news is that there is another whole weekend of performances, including one perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day. Be sure to catch one of them. Shows are Friday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 13-14 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $21 per person and $19 for seniors and students. To reserve seats, call 667-9500 and visit www.grandonline.org.