Spotted histories under white garments

By Michael Leung

Congratulations, you’ve just found a play written by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton–more commonly known as the playwright, novelist and politician who coined such common literary phrases "The pen is mightier than the sword," and "It was a dark and stormy night."

Your name is Dr. Barry Yzereef, and you’re the Head of the Drama department at the University of Calgary. During a brief stay in England you discover a play in a musty cabinet at the Knebworth House (the ancestral home of Bulwer-Lytton) entitled The Captives, written by Bulwer-Lytton in 1867. You’re pretty darn happy about that. Because of your serpendipitous discovery, your department gets the invitation to stage the play back at the Knebworth House during the Bulwer-Lytton 2000 Conference.

Finally, only one obstacle remains. How do you pay for you and 15 students to get there? Why, hold a fundraising play, of course!

Enter What the Dickens!, the second of three fundraising performances held by the U of C drama department. Directed by U of C masters student Jonathan Love, What the Dickens! can be called a musical black comedy.

Set in 18th century England, a local group of thieves and ruffians have come to crash a fundraising gala being held by the ever-so-delicate Ladies Temperance Society. Unwittingly, the thugs bring some unwanted guests in tow–namely, the local police and a group of sultry harletts. The former are out for the public good, the latter are out to make a hardy pound. Thus the fundraising gala spirals into chaos. The thugs, hunted by the police, must join forces with the Temperance Ladies who wish only to raise enough funds for their success. "It’ll be a melodramatic evening for everybody," says music graduate Brigit Knecht, the play’s musical director. She adds, however, "[the play is] not for the entire family, so it’ll be a melodramatic evening for… mature audiences."

Uneasy alliances form and unlikely romances occur. The "loose ladies," however, keep doing what they do. Knecht claims that the performance will get "raunchy," as culture clash occurs between the three protagonists: the harletts, the highwaymen, and the Temperance Ladies.

The barriers of class and social standing dissipate when everybody is cast into the same rocky boat. Soon the audience will discover how individuals from the rigid, high-class Temperance Ladies were not born into high standing, and in fact have spotted histories under their white garments. The highwaymen hold surprises of their own, as one of their band discovers his romantic side.

The show will be complemented by numbers from famous Broadway musicals such as Guys and Dolls, Cabaret, Les Miserablés, and Chicago. Knecht and Love have also collaborated to create four new original numbers for the performance.

What the Dickens! will hopefully raise about $1,000, edging closer to the $35,000 required to finance the trip to England. The Drama department is accepting donations earmarked for the trip, with $500 dollars netting you an invitation to a pre-UK gala performance in May. Fortunately, they’ve received a $4,500 donation from The Calgary Foundation.

Performances will be held Sat. Jan. 29 and Sun. Jan 30. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Call the department at 220-3846 to book tickets.


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