Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are one of my guilty pleasures, and I loved the film Topsy-Turvy about the renowned lyricist and composer. But I never fully appreciated the cleverness of William S. Gilbert as a writer until watching Engaged!, his 1877 comedy that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC) is offering as a deliriously entertaining summertime show.
The show is commonly assumed to be the inspiration for Oscar Wilde’s 1895 classic, The Importance of Being Earnest. If you’ve ever laughed your way through that clever comedy, you should head downtown for a fresh dose of hilarity.
The goofy plot circles around Cheviot Hill (Rob Jansen), a romantic twit who falls in love with every woman he meets and often proposes marriage.
He often speaks directly to the audience to rationalize his behavior. The women he’s entangled with are varied: a naive country girl and a savvy Cockney maid (both played with linguistic flair by Julianna Bloodgood), a high-strung soon-to-be heiress (Kelly Mengelkoch) and a giddy but subtly sharp young woman (Keely Wolter).
Hill is pursued by two men who have ulterior motives to keep him single (Matt Johnson as a kind of amateur Svengali) or see him married (Andy Gaukel, as a dullard father). Chris Guthrie, as a romantic country bumpkin, rounds out the cast.
CSC actor Jeremy Dubin’s staging has resulted in a show with the precision of a fine watch: Timing, comic gestures and running jokes are beautifully choreographed, especially Jansen’s oft-repeated speech about “the tree upon which the fruit of his heart” is growing.
The show is played on a wonderfully off-kilter set by Kristen Robinson, a cartoonish, rustic country scene, followed by a tipsy London drawing room. The Victorian play has three acts and two intermissions, but it breezes by in a bit more than two hours. You’ll wish it were longer.
ENGAGED!, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through Aug. 9. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.