Love and passion, laced with generous doses of greed and manipulation, treachery and deceit.
These familiar themes, Vassar guest director Kim Weild says, are what make William Congreve’s Restoration comedy, The Way of the World, a timeless classic. Weild, a professional freelance director from New York City, is directing a cast of 20 Vassar students in the 300-year-old play Nov. 14 through 16 at the Martel Theater in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film.
“It’s a romantic comedy with a serpentine plot that includes lots of intrigue and infidelity,” Weild says. “The language is exquisite – it has a real musicality about it – and its social commentary is timeless.”
The plot takes the audience on a wild, careening tour of upper-class English courtship, featuring a sometimes morally challenged gentleman named Mirabell and the strong-willed and independent Millimant.
Weild says one of her favorite scenes is a conversation between the two wary lovers in which Millimant points out that marriage has a way of limiting women, as one “dwindles into wife,” so she negotiates with Mirabell over a list of demands he must meet if they are to be wed. Congreve’s paramour, Anne Bracegirdle, an actress known for her fierce independence, played the original role of Millimant. “Audiences in 1700 must have been a bit startled by this scene, but many of them knew Bracegirdle was this kind of independent, outside-the-mainstream woman herself,” she says.
Weild says she has always believed the success of any play lies largely in the casting, and she’s impressed with the cast she has assembled for The Way of the World.
“The rehearsals have been really encouraging – all of the actors have a deft intelligence, a fearlessness and an appetite for hard work that makes me very excited,” she says.
Two students with roles in the play share Weild’s enthusiasm. “The language in the play is both fascinating and challenging,” says Allison Pearl ‘16, who plays Foible, a conniving handmaiden who has been secretly married off to Mirabell’s man servant to keep her under Mirabell’s influence. “To play this role, you have to understand exactly what all the characters are saying because they use the language not only to inform but also to deceive and manipulate people. It’s been really fun because Kim has high standards and expectations, but she also lets you test your own ideas and interpretations.”
Nora Kaye ’16, who plays the aging and insecure Lady Wishfort, agrees.“I feel bad for Lady Wishfort – she’s so vulnerable – but I think a lot of people can relate to her insecurity, her fear of growing old, so that’s fun to play with,” Kaye says.
She’s also learning a lot from Weild. “Her direction is wonderful. She’s demanding and has an amazing attention to detail, but she also allows us to play around with our characters,” Kaye says. “It’s a lot of fun and a lot of hard work.”
Weild received her master’s degree in fine arts from Columbia University in 2007 and has directed more than a dozen plays in New York City over the past five years. Her work has been nominated for a New York Drama Desk Award. A member of the faculty of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute, she says she is directing the cast at Vassar in the same way she treats professionals. “I haven’t changed anything -- this group is up to the challenge,” she says. “There’s a sense of trust among the entire ensemble, a rigor and discipline that’s keeping the bar raised and the energy high in the room. This is a rare opportunity for people to see a play written more than 300 years ago that is no less relevant today, and the students appreciate that.”