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Theater Review: Into the Breeches

Tricia Cruz, Kevin Dulude, Jean Mackie, Holly Sidell, Caroline Westheimer, and Nakasha Norwood in Into the Breeches. Photo by Eric Keitel.

Shakespeare, traditionally performed by all-male casts, is no stranger to gender-bending, and with a myriad of plotlines rooted in crossdressing and gender-based confusion, “queering Shakespeare” has become a popular phenomena in staging these classic works. While an all-female production of Macbeth or a drag performance of King Lear may no longer seem quite as novel in a modern theatrical landscape, “breeches roles,” (roles where actresses appear dressed in men’s clothing) and gender-bent casting was once uncommon and even scandalous. Into the Breeches explores the early radicalism of non-conforming casting in the theater.

Set during World War II, Into the Breeches follows the Oberon Play House’s resident theater troupe, which has been left in disarray after the majority of its male company members were called overseas. Stepping into her husband’s shoes, Maggie Dalton takes charge as the company director, persevering in an unconventional approach–presenting an all-female rendition of Shakespeare’s Henriad. Despite battling misogyny, homophobia, and racism (including her own internalized prejudices), Maggie pulls together a ragtag cast and production team, creating a heartwarming spectacle that offers the people of Providence a much-needed escape from the harsh realities of wartime.

Nakasha Norwood, Jean Mackie, Tricia Cruz, and Holly Sidell in Into the Breeches. Photo by Eric Keitel.

Written by George Brant and directed by Louis Fantasia, Into the Breeches is the latest mainstage production of Theatre 40, running in repertory with the company’s other current production, Power and Light. The comedy runs just over two hours with a 10-minute intermission. 

At its heart, Into the Breeches is a character-driven underdog story. The cast is commendable in creating a lovable band of misfits, each role distinct, clearly articulated and endearing. The tone of the show was inconsistent, and the sometimes more overstated characters felt slightly out of place or inauthentic in what is otherwise a relatively grounded comedy. Still, the cast produces a decently cohesive team. Jean Mackie is particularly laugh-out-loud as Winifred, a quirky and earnest socialite reminiscent of The Help’s Celia Foote. Holly Sidell is also a standout, with her timid and socially awkward interpretation of the surprisingly star-powered Grace. 

Holly Sidell, Jean Mackie, and Tricia Cruz in Into the Breeches. Photo by Eric Keitel.

The show begins rather slowly. Act One is plagued by several long scenes of stagnant standing and sitting with little action. Theatre 40 occupies a relatively spacious black box, simultaneously an invitation for innovative and lively blocking, as well as a challenge in commanding such a sizable room. Especially in Act Two, Director Louis Fantasia makes the most of this opportunity, and rehearsals for the play-within-a-play are dynamic, entertaining, and vibrant. By contrast, the moments of stillness and introspection in Act Two feel well-earned and resonant, for example, a particularly captivating monologue by Celeste (Maria Brodeur) toward the end of the show.

Into the Breeches makes good use of a minimalistic set. Largely dependent on a sturdy table and chairs, the show cuts down the time necessary for scene transitions while also fostering creative staging. The costume design by Michael Mullen is particularly well-done, complementing the show’s themes of gender and drag while also mining some fun visual gags.

Caroline Westheimer and Kevin Dulude in Into the Breeches. Photo by Eric Keitel.

Text-wise, Into the Breeches, is sweetly entertaining, though overly on-the-nose when it comes to punchlines and social commentary. Written in 2020, Into the Breeches feels a product of its time. The show attempts a nuanced discussion of early feminism–both the bravery of the women associated with the movement, and the groups (notably women of color and the LGBTQ+ community) who are left behind by white feminism. Though I appreciate that the show acknowledges these shortcomings of the women’s movement, the text seems almost hesitant to fully engage in this critical analysis. In an attempt to keep its protagonists likable, conversations surrounding race and sexuality are addressed much too quickly, and ultimately the play borders on a white savior mentality. 

Theatre 40 is a charming group in a charming space, clearly driven by an infectious love of theater and joy of performance. Though I believe the company has more unmined potential, Into the Breeches is ultimately uplifting and entertaining. 

Into the Breeches runs March 21st through April 27 at Theatre Forty, 241 S. Moreno Drive in Beverly Hills. All showtimes begin at 7:30pm. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased here.

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Sika Lonner
Sika Lonner
Sika Lonner is a Los Angeles based actress and writer. Her training includes Loyola Marymount University (B.A.), Academy of Dramatic Art - University of Zagreb, and Michael Tschechow Studio Berlin.

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