Reality and FantasyBy Amy Meadows
Presented by MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players
Libretto by W.S. Gilbert
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Directed by Eric Lars Myers
With Mary Tsien, Cemocan Yesil, Jonathan Weinstein, Katherine Bryant, Dawn Perlner, and many others
In La Sala de Puerto Rico
November 11, 12, 13 at 8pm
Information at <email@example.com> or at (617) 253-0190
Fairies singing and dancing in Britain’s House of Lords? Only Iolanthe could have such a mix of absurdity, amusement, and satire. The MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players bring Iolanthe to the stage this weekend in La Sala de Puerto Rico. Though on the surface Iolanthe appears to be merely about a band of misguided fairies, it is the fantasy aspect that takes the production to a higher level of truth about the interactions of the characters.
The play begins as Strephon (Cemocan Yesil), a 25-year old shepherd, is about to be married to the beautiful Phyllis (Mary Tsien), a ward of the Lord Chancellor of England (Jonathan Weinstein). Iolanthe (Dawn Perlner) is Strephon’s fairy mother.
When Strephon goes to ask formally for Phyllis’ hand in marriage, she mistakes the relationship between mother and son (Iolanthe, like all fairies, looks around 17) and interrupts the proceedings with a rage that would make even Maria Callas proud. After that, Phyllis promptly engages herself to two members of the House of Lords, but even though the Peers attempt to manipulate her decision about which of them she is going to marry, she seems to manipulate them equally as well.
Moreover, Phyllis is lusted after by the Chancellor. Of course, this means that Strephon and Phyllis are separated and put back together, and pretty much controlled throughout by the two main factions in the play: the Peers (members of the House of Lords) and the Fairies (Strephon’s “aunts”). These manipulations are essentially what give the play its deeper meaning. The reactions of both romantic leads to the separation certainly are not absurd. In fact, this perfectly logical manipulation is the key to understanding the satirical elements of the play.
Because Iolanthe is a fantasy and a satire, it is very interesting to watch the quirks and qualms and sheer absurdity of the characters unfold. Cemocan Yesil plays his Strephon as the conflicted half-fairy, half-mortal with a due amount of angst at being manipulated by so many external forces (he is not allowed to marry Phyllis because of the House of Lords, but then he is placed at the center of the body by the fairies). His romantic counterpart is equally complex: Phyllis combines the air of aloofness with powerful and emotionally interjections.
Fairy Queen (Katherine Bryant), to whom the audience sings “God Save the Fairy Queen” before the play begins, embodies the force and empowerment that her role entitles. Her presence on stage is always noted and respected. Additionally, Jonathan Weinstein plays a hilarious version of the Lord Chancellor. Instead of being old and crotchety, he maintains almost a self-effacing humor throughout the play. Imagine Woody Allen in a musical, and this would describe the Lord Chancellor.
Portions of this production are done in pantomime, being very unclear at times (singing is definitely much more of a strength). However, these parts did serve the purpose of highlighting the absurd elements of the play.
The best scenes are those in which the entire ensemble sings together, plus some individual highlights, such as the song by Private Willis (Ryan Caveny) in which every child “is either a little liberal or else a little conservative.” The fairies interacting with the peers -- being mad at them, being madly in love with them -- make up some of the best scenes of the play.
Iolanthe is an amusing, whimsical play, but it addresses some more serious issues which gives it depth. The acting is outstanding, each role carrying with it some of the aspects that best exemplify reality and fantasy.