"You're mad and you're violent, and I strongly resent finding you slightly pleasant," a character says in Christopher Fry's 1948 curiosity, "The Lady's Not for Burning," revived through Nov. 2 by the Round House Theater in Silver Spring.
The only problem with the play is that it is not quite mad enough, and certainly never violent. It seems to be trying for something like either Shakespeare's lovely later comedies or Shaw. It falls between -- as what wouldn't? For a 1980 audience it comes across as a subtle test of acting skill, and the much-praised Round House Theater has risen to the occasion.
With lines like "She's too young to go throwing herself under the wheels of happiness" and " . . . using language that's only fit for use in the Bible . .fs." and with a character intent on having himself hanged (Gielgud in the original) plus a beautiful woman about to be burned as a witch by an oddly lackadaisical inquisitor, it makes for an evening that is definitely more than slightly pleasant. But the word still stands: pleasant. Is pleasant enough, in this era of boffs, yuks and disembowelings?
"All my friends tell me I actually exist," wistfully murmurs Irving Engleman as the rotund chaplain. "By an act of faith I have come to believe it." He's the one who says in true Richard Lester throwaway style, "It's Greek to me . . . except of course I understand Greek."
Round House stalwart Gayle Behrman gives another studied, perfect performance here: a 15th-century suburban mom, beautiful blank face washed clean of character, a face from Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast." Thomas Schall as the too-intelligent clerk, Greta Lambert and David DiGiannantonio respond nicely to Behrman's deadpan humor. In fact, most of the actors, including Tucker Ewing in the title role, grasp that this stuff simply cannot be underplayed enough.
Mark Jaster in the main role is one of those who doesn't, or didn't on opening night, when he still seemed to be feeling his way with the lines. Somehow one feels that a "world-weary soldier" would not grin so much. Two of the play's most delightful moments are love scenes, done in the same casually poetic tone, rising almost -- almost -- to the level of Romeo and Juliet's shared sonnet in the masked ball scene.
Douglas A. Cumming's set, flexible, colorful and vaguely ecclesiastical (in keeping with Fry's background as writer of church pageants), sets the tone immediately and adds considerably to one's sense of being in the hands of pros.