Backstage has this to say:
It has been left to the enterprising Storm Theatre, in collaboration with the Blackfriars Repertory Theatre, to at last introduce the playwright George Lillo and his 1731 drama THE LONDON MERCHANT to New York. The play has been called "the first bourgeois tragedy," for instead of presenting the usual upper strata of English society, it focused on the merchant class, with characters that were immediately recognizable to a middle-class theatergoing audience. For Lillo, with his accent on Christian morality, this emerging group of capitalists was just as worthy of a fall from grace as their supposed betters. The play gained immediate popularity and became one of the most frequently performed plays of the 18th century, with its newfound focal point having considerable influence on later British and Continental playwriting.TheatreMania contributes this:
So why has it lain hidden all these years? The story is a straightforward one, being a moral treatise on the road to ruin. As such there is little surprise and not a great deal of dramatic tension. Millwood (Jessica Myhr), "a lady of pleasure," has vowed to have her revenge on men. "Women are your universal prey," she observes. She sets her sights on an upright, innocent apprentice, George Barnwell (Patrick Woodall), who lives in the London house of his merchant master, Thorowgood (Joe Danbusky). Also in this house is a second apprentice, Trueman (Harlan Work), who is George's stalwart friend, and Thorowgood's daughter, Maria (Megan Stern), who is in love with George. We witness the respected George drawn into the web of the lovely, unscrupulous Millwood, who is aided in her evil scheme by her two servants, Lucy (Michelle Kafel) and Blunt (Spencer Aste). Soon poor George is awash in "this world of woe."
There is pleasure here in the formality of Lillo's language as he creates a glowing scene of goodness that is surprisingly convincing. But, as ever, it is the serpent in the garden who has the best lines. Lillo's delineation of Millwood's character is the most compelling aspect of the play. He makes her both captivating and complex; at her most devious she dissembles with a cunning grace. Though it was clearly never Lillo's intention, she has the makings of a feminist heroine.
Under the astute direction of Peter Dobbins, the well-spoken production has a pleasing bare-boards simplicity that captures the period. Myhr creates a young, attractive Millwood who is deliciously cool in all circumstances, perhaps too cool in her final damnation of men. Innocence is difficult to convey, but Woodall gives George a shining goodness that speaks well for the actor's future. There's a capable supporting cast, especially Danbusky and Work, while Maria Kousoulos' costumes, Michael Abrams' lighting, and David Thomas' sound design greatly assist this cautionary tale. Any student of dramatic history should hurry to make the acquaintance of Millwood and George and finally give George Lillo a welcome to New York.
Patrick Woodall and Harlan Work in The London Merchant.
(photo © Michael Abrams)
(photo © Michael Abrams)
Talk about navigating your slippery slopes — that's what's facing young mercantile apprentice George Barnwell in George Lillo's 1731 play THE LONDON MERCHANT, being co-presented by the Storm Theatre and Blackfriars Repertory Theatre at the Church of Notre Dame under Peter Dobbins' straightforward direction.The London Merchant is on a strictly limited engagement, and runs through January 28th. Tickets are available now through SmartTix - don't miss your opportunity to see this groundbreaking play in its North American premiere!
Barnwell (Patrick Woodall) spends but one night succumbing to the charms of the manipulative and mercenary courtesan Sarah Millwood (Jessica Myhr), and he's immediately ready to commit embezzlement — and worse — for another taste of paradise.
Subtlety was not a strong suit for Lillo, whose characters — including Barnwell's master Thorowgood (played with impressive gravitas by Joe Danbusky) and George's fellow apprentice, Truman (Harlan Work) — tend to have assigned positions along the virtue/depravity spectrum.
But the work does have a somewhat surprisingly modern sensibility in its creation of Millwood. In a stirring mid-play speech, she lays the blame for her misdeeds on the parade of men who abused her: "Another and another spoiler came … all were alike wicked to the utmost of their power. In pride, contention, avarice, cruelty and revenge, the reverend priesthood were my unerring guides."
The play could have ended there, but unfortunately Lillo had a didactic mission to fulfill. We follow the lovers right to the brink of the gallows, where the unrepentant Millwood pants in terror as a duly shriven Barnwell beams, confident of a blissful reception on the other side. Fortunately, the acting has much merit, especially the work of Woodall and Myrh. If they can handle material this abstruse and antiquated this adeptly, just imagine what might happen once they sink their teeth into meatier matter.