HOUSTON -- Reviews can mean everything -- and nothing.
Case in point: Main Street Theater's world premiere of an 18th century comedy of manners, The Witlings, by Francis Burney (1782-1840), a woman of a satirical letters best known for diaries and such novels as Evelina and Camilla, but an unheralded playwright as well.
A trenchant send-up of the societal mores Burney experienced first-hand, The Witlings debuted in Houston Feb. 5. Initial notices, specifically from The Houston Chronicle, Houston's only daily, and The Houston Press, Houston's most prominent weekly, were less than enthusiastic. But the second go-round yielded decidedly favorable responses from other community publications and an out-and-out rave from Theatre Journal, a national magazine for theater educators. On the basis of these latter assessments, and on the strength of word-of-mouth, the show, which was scheduled to close on Mar. 8, will be extended through Mar. 15.
"We've invested not just considerable money but also a lot of time in The Witlings," said Main Street Theater marketing director Philip Mayard. "And with the momentum building, we felt we could extend our commitment to it even further."
The Witling lampoons Bluestocking Society via marriage and literature. A young man is admonished by his rich, supercilious aunt, who is his provider, to break off his engagement with his intended when it appears his beloved has lost her fortune. The young man is admonished, that is, when said aunt, one Lady Smatter, can tear herself away from her pretentious reading club, whose members include the plagiarist/poet Dabbler, the empty-headed Mrs. Sapient, and a befuddled old man named Codger. The young lovers end up happily ever after, of course, thanks to a friend called Censor, and Lady Smatter goes on her merry way, getting her comeuppance but having learned not a wit. Directed by Main Street Theater artistic director Rebecca Greene Udden, The Witlings runs through until Mar. 15 at Main Street Theater in Houston. For tickets, $12 - $17, call (713) 524-6706
-- By Peter Szatmary