“Diana of Dobson’s” at Taproot

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Olivia Hartshorn Helen Harvester in Diana of Dobson’s at Taproot Theatre.
Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Like a delectable cream puff, Taproot’s “Diana of Dobson’s” has a light exterior covering a substantial interior. This early 20th C. romantic comedy by Cicely Hamilton, and directed here by Karen Lund, addresses the plight of England’s poor working women in a society where the wealthy luxuriate in their privilege with little compassion for or understanding of those below them. As our middle class disappears and the gap between rich and poor increases, this is timely social commentary wrapped up in frothy drollery.

Our heroine Diana (played with just the right combination of spunk and coy flirtatiousness by Helen Harvester) is an orphan, reduced to serving as a clerk in a department store. She lives in the store’s dreary dormitory with her fellow shop girls, subject to the demeaning rules laid down by her superiors but dreaming of a better life. When she inherits £300 from a distant relative, her new life begins. She’ll blow it all on one month of elegant living, beautiful clothes, a vacation in Switzerland, and crowded hours of a glorious life. Then when it’s over, she’ll cherish the memories as she returns to her dismal reality.

And so she does have her month! In magnificent costumes by Sarah Burch Gordon, she encounters the snobbish Mrs. Cantelupe who mistakes her for a wealthy widow, a perfect match for her spendthrift nephew Victor (Ian Bond). Of course there are charming misunderstandings as the masquerade continues, and love blooms in more places than one.

Mark Lund’s clever set transforms a dreary, mostly grey dormitory into a lovely public room in a Swiss hotel with windows looking out on the mountains. It then takes us into a mean London Street where we meet Diana after her magical month. The scenes are effective and the transitions work with remarkable ease.

The entire cast deserves kudos, from shop girls to the bewhiskered shop owner, the pompous and conniving Mrs. Cantelupe, and her profligate nephew. The accents that reinforce class differences are spot on. The only question I had with the play was: would Diana, born in a rural town, daughter of a doctor, be able to capture the speech patterns of England’s snobby upper class sufficiently to fool them. But that’s a carp. This is a delightful production, a charming romp with an important reminder to all of us in a society where the distribution of wealth becomes more skewed with every passing year.

Through June 14 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206-781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org)

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