Through October 15
THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT Royal George Theatre/Shaw Festival
By Augustine Warner
In Edith Wharton’s “The Shadow of a Doubt,” that shadow revolves around the death of the wife of a rising star in British politics and his remarriage to the nurse who took care of the wife.
There is also the shadow from 1901, when a production of the script never went on stage for reasons unclear in these times and the script was lost to theatrical archives, until researchers tripped over it a few years ago.
Wharton is far better known as a novelist, works like “The Age of Innocence” and “Ethan Frome.”
As the story unfolds on stage, it will remind you of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” done several times at the Shaw and, locally, at the Irish Classical.
While Wharton was an American, she was from the Manhattan upper crust and understood the machinations of those with money and inflated self-worth and applied it, here, to the British “400.”
That was the Manhattan inner circle, said to be based on the size of Mrs. Astor’s ballroom.
“Shadow” is a dark story, made darker by Gilliam Gallow’s set and costumes, black mourning dresses and wonderful theatrical woodwork The play was written around the time of the death of Queen Victoria, leaving mourning gear the standard, certainly for these women.
The events take place among the upper crust of the Empire, the really upper crust who ran the world.
The key figure in the tale is Lord Osterleigh (Patrick Galligan), high up in the Foreign Office, operating from a palatial mansion on Park Lane, surrounded by dukes, top pols and the richest of the rich.
His daughter was the wife of John Derwent (André Morin), the woman who died under somewhat unclear circumstances.
The lord is unhappy about the re-marriage and wants to punish his former son-in-law for marrying the nurse.
This is a long play, with the first act dedicated to setting up the story and showing the characters gossiping about the death and new marriage.
Then, the action shifts to the Derwent house along the Thames and more gossip and, finally, Lord Osterleigh’s machinations to separate Derwent and new wife Kate (Katherine Gauthier) and, in turn, Kate from Derwent’s daughter Sylvia (Chloe Bowman/Julia Thompson).
Sylvia likes her stepmother and that seems to anger Lord Osterleigh, seemingly because it threatens to separate him from his granddaughter.
Derwent is sent to China on a diplomatic mission and the granddaughter is pulled away from step-mom and issued to her grandfather.
In the end, John returns.
Husband and wife must decide their futures.
To find out what happens in this “new” play, you have to head off to Niagara-on-the-Lake and see Act III.
Kate may have married into the ethereal levels of British society but clearly doesn’t have any loyalty to the position her marriage provided.
It’s easy to say why the script would be troublesome because Wharton wasn’t an experienced playwright, not so much because it was such a shot at the ruling class.
Oscar Wilde did that routinely, with more bite and venom.
The script needed work, tightening and shortening and more explanation of Kate Derwent’s choices in Act III.
That doesn’t mean you should skip the play because you shouldn’t.
Gauthier is fine as Kate but the real heart of the production is a wonderful performance by Galligan, particularly when he arrives in a swirling white suit at that Thames-side home.
He’s really something out of “Game of Thrones,” even without dragons.
This is a Britain just a few years away from bloody disaster in World War I when this world goes away, far from the apogee of these Edwardian days of “The Shadow of a Doubt.”
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