"Tell them I'm not so bad - and I'll do me split tomorrow night," offered British comedienne Tessie O'Shea after romping her way through "Lady Lily" at Ford's Theatre, teeth first and form-fitting purple caftan following right behind.
Well, she's not so bad, and what's more, you can see worse things in the quasitheater than Tessie O'Sheahs split.
The matter of quasi-theater comes up because Ford's has been doing a night club-to-music hall range of entertainment without a liquor license. Things that might have gone over marvelously in rowdier surroundings may suffer there; people expect more when they're sitting in ridig lines, to say nothing of ridig chairs, with only whatever comfort they've gotten in before an early curtain.
But compared to the thin one-man shows that have come through, this is sturdy, with a strong one-woman and the blank parts of the stage amusingly filled with a fast-running cast in different guises.
It is not, although the title and period certainly suggest it, the story of Lillie Langtry, the mistress of Edward VII (and, as it turns out in her recently made public correspondence, quite a number of other Edwardians). Edward does appear in a box, however, clapping regally and remaining us that the upper classes were grateful to enjoy themselves with the robust and risque.
This is the funny point, too, of what the program condescendingly calls the "dime-novel pot" - it's worth twice that. O'Shea plays an ex-music-hall girl who has married into the peerage and now, countless years later, is about to embarrass her husband by making one more appearance for a benefit. It's not that this pretends to offer itself as a real plot with suspense and developments. But the situation itself is charming. In Victorian and Edwardian novels and histories, there was always some upper-class young man who had married a chorus girl, but one never heard about what happened in the "ever-after" part of the marriage. The stories always ended with the sad shaking of heads and predictions of how the poor entangled creature had ruined his life.
But had he? One look at Tessie O'Shea and her aging peer sitting around in connubial comfort and the thought pops up that maybe those ruined young men knew what they were doing. Having a jolly, fat, naughty ex-entertainer bubbling around the house must be more fun than watching the horsefaced daughter of an earl over the decades. Lady Lily - At Ford's Theatre through January 7