Cicely Hamilton debuted as a playwright in 1906 with a pen name disguised to hide her sex. But that subterfuge would never suit a feminist like Hamilton, who vowed after that to use her own name on everything else she wrote. In 1908, DIANA OF DOBSON’S was produced – with her own name readily visible. An actress, writer, feminist, and suffragette, Hamilton delved in sociopolitical issues of her day with an acid pen as she shone light on the plight of working women and the economics of marriage. She wanted to see women become self-sufficient; and, in fact, she achieved her own financial freedom through her writings. Hamilton was a woman ahead of her time whose life spanned 1872 to 1952.
When Diana (Abigail Marks) finds herself penniless after her physician father died six years ago, she is forced to join the hordes of women who earn their own living as shop girls. Diana Massingberd must give up her personal identity to become DIANA OF DOBSON’S. Sad to say, her personality proves a poor fit for this lot in life; and she easily ruffles feathers and breaks the rules. But then a miracle happens. A distant relative dies, and she finds that she has inherited 300 pounds (representing 23 years of wages as an impoverished store clerk). What to do? Even though her common sense tells her that she should save and invest that unexpected windfall, she opts instead to build sumptuous memories to last her entire life by spending the entire sum on an elegant month in Switzerland hobnobbing with the upper crust.
And what a month it is. Her circle becomes the monied ladies of leisure, and she attracts two very eligible suiters, wealthy Sir Jabez Grinley (John Apicella) – who just happens to be a former employer who fired her – and Captain Victor Bretherton (John Bobek), a man with a sizable inherited income and no real calling in life. Life is good until the money runs out; and Diana must return to London, hopefully far wiser but definitely no richer. Author Hamilton has carefully outlined real life as she knew it while an impoverished young adult in “the Gay Nineties.”
Director Casey Stangl helms the production with a sure hand as she paints the world over 100 years ago. Although somewhat miscast as Diana, Marks does a splendid job of sharing Diana’s dreams with the audience. The talented ensemble cast does excellent work re-creating a time in history which is no more – although some of the issues touched upon still loom large on the horizon.
Special kudos to Nina Caussa’s scenic design, which converts a barren and uninviting first act stage into a gloriously opulent second act set with the clever use of a few props to turn lead into gold. A Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes and Jessica Mills’ wigs and hair designs also deserve notice as they quickly convert socioeconomic classes up, down, and sideways.
As always, the Antaeus Theatre Company has double cast the play – with the exception of Abigail Marks, who is always Diana. The performance reviewed was the “Pots” cast, and a fine cast they were. DIANA OF DOBSON’S should please most audiences, including those who find historical stories fascinating and those who enjoy jibes at social customs and mores. In keeping with the times, keep an eye out for the happy ending.
DIANA OF DOBSON’S runs through June 3, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (dark Saturday May 18). Antaeus Theatre performs at the Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center, located at 110 East Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205. Tickets are $35. For information and reservations, call 818-506-1983 or go online.