For my money, the Underground Railway Theater’s presentation of “Vanity Fair, An (Im-)Morality Play,” at Central Square Theater through February 23, couldn’t be a more timely and engaging burlesque of the surplus of hypocrisy and disguised cruelty that runs just below even the most distinguished of civilizations.
In this case, the narrative is based on novelist William Makepeace Thackery’s mid-19th century novel, “Vanity Fair,” which, judging from this dramatic adaptation, looked minutely and scathingly at an England nearing the height of an empire so globally broad that upon it, “the sun never sets.”
The directing and the acting were, in this reviewer’s perception, superb. It was a delight to see hypocrisy so fully inflated with its own pomposity it seemed to float like a gas-filled balloon across the narrow stage with only its tiny, well-shod feet showing — the more pleasure to see it skewered, to hear the deliciously gratifying sound of gassy hypocrisy escaping to leave only a shrunken set of classy clothes on the stage.
And yet, as broad and satisfying as the burlesque of this production was, there were also moments of deep pathos when both more and less deserving characters became suddenly very alone in their vulnerability and need. The poor, addicted to existing, and the rich addicted to riches both suffered wrenching withdrawals as their sustenance seemed about to be withdrawn — however well-fought their tactics. There was a clear and persuasive narrative running through the non-stop shenanigans that nobody wins in this all-against-all struggle at the social heart of a very successful empire. Comeuppance perhaps for the plentiful suffering of the empire’s ‘loyal’ colonials?
And speaking of ‘non-stop shenanigans’ — I would like to personally thank the fight coordinator, Victor Ventricelli, as well as various assisting persons skillfully managing the props, costumes, staging, lighting, etcetera for preserving my safety in a front row seat. Props as well to the full-bodied actors who literally flew from one space into another space as both the low and high marshaled and led their troops into all-out daily battle.
And yet, through I was only feet from bouncing pearls and diamonds from two different necklaces ripped from elegant necks, not to mention paper money of low and higher denominations (which I pocketed), my life and limb remained unaffected.
My self-esteem was a little damaged as more than one of the actors spoke bluntly if not rudely to my note-taking front-row presence — no one here is completely spared — I still managed, halo intact, but flickering, to escape (as only a bit actor) from a jolly good, if presumptuous, show!
(Underground Railway Theater’s presentation of “Vanity Fair, An (Im)Morality Play” continues through February 23 at Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Massachusetts. For more information, call (617) 576-9278 or visit their website.)