Double-talking Victorians

Blue Room comedy takes a skewed look at romance

WATCH THIS CLOSELY Actors Paul Stout (top) and Joe Hilsee turn in hilariously mesmerizing performances in the the Blue Room production of <i>Indulgences in the Louisville Harem</i>.

WATCH THIS CLOSELY Actors Paul Stout (top) and Joe Hilsee turn in hilariously mesmerizing performances in the the Blue Room production of Indulgences in the Louisville Harem.

Photo By Tom Angel

Disguising itself in the trappings of a Victorian drawing room comedy of manners, John Orlock’s Indulgences in the Louisville Harem is actually a post-modern exploration of the ambiguous nature of personal relationships and the mysteries of communication.

Which doesn’t stop it from being uproariously funny (in parts, anyway) but does free it from such old-fashioned constraints as having to possess an obvious Judeo-Christian moral or a linear denouement, two things that many of us do quite well without in our everyday lives and that most theater-goers will probably not miss greatly.

What some might miss, however, are consistency of tone and a cohesion of story elements.

The set is done to middle-class Victorian perfection, from worn Persian rugs to the velvet, antimacassared fainting couch and the inlaid parquet coffee table. The four characters are just as perfectly turned out in period costumes, right down to the spats and patent leather shoes. And the richness of the setting seems to bring out the actors’ best efforts. Alice Wiley Pickett and Jackie Lillard as the spinster sisters Florence and Viola establish a tone of frustrated erotic longing repressed beneath a blanket of polite gentility but subtly revealed by Viola’s monologues describing in turn her appreciation of the fertility of nature and a dream of having her leg amputated.

The sisters’ uneventful home life is disrupted by the mysterious appearance in their mailbox of a “catalog of eligible men” to which they decide to write in hope of meeting congenial companions. And the results of their decision to venture into the realm of mail-order romance provides the impetus for the play to morph from a lightly comic examination of romantic longing to a belly-laugh-inducing broad comedy, for a while.

The characters of the mail-order suitors, Professor Amos Robbilet (Paul Stout) and his assistant Winfield Davis (Joe Hilsee), are designed to allow two actors to demonstrate comic timing, and Hilsee and Stout rise to the challenge with such precision that the exactitude of their timing may be lost for a few moments on all but the most attentive members of the audience. But the delay of that perception only makes their achievement more remarkable and funny. It’s worth the price of admission.

Unfortunately, the powerful hilarity of the male characters overshadows the more interesting and subtle characterizations of the female characters, which is a bit of a shame, because the second half of the play depends on our sustained interest in the well-expressed thoughts and emotions of the sisters

The plot winds slowly down through a couple of leisurely turnabouts but ultimately left me more sedated than sated, despite my appreciation of the enormously high quality of the production. But after all, ambivalence is the ultimate post-modern emotion.