"I don't want to leave Washington," says Lady Marjory Wright with a little pout.
The double doors that lead from the British Embassy drawing room onto the terrace are open and sun pours in. Lady Wright, the wife of the British ambassador, sits on a sofa. Delilah, her devoted Labrador, settles nearby on the rug. A toddler, her grandchild, roams outside. The Wrights' three sons and their families are all gathering this weekend for a farewell party at the embassy less than two months before the Wrights leave their post here.
"I suddenly feel everything's coming together now . . . You realize suddenly how many roots you've got." She pauses. "Maybe another year."
The ambassador walks in. "I'm Oliver Wright," he says. "I belong to her. Did I interrupt?" He sits next to his wife.
"Just lamenting," she muses.
And how does the ambassador feel about completing his tour of duty and leaving Washington?
With hardly a pause, he answers: " 'If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come -- the readiness is all.' "
" 'Hamlet,' " says Lady Wright.
"Act 3," he says.
"No, Act 4," she frowns. Ambassador Wright leaves the room and returns with a bound volume of Shakespeare. Finding that not to his liking, he fetches another.
"Oh, dear, there's a set in every room, really," Lady Wright says. "Can't live without Shakespeare."
"Act 5," the ambassador announces.
After four years in Washington, Sir Oliver Wright and Lady Marjory Wright are taking their act back to the United Kingdom, their tour of duty here completed. (Delilah returns too, after a requisite six months in quarantine.)
In their time here, they have become one of the most affectionately regarded diplomatic couples in Washington -- known for their involvement in the arts, especially the theater community. Lady Wright, an actress, sits on the boards of Arena Stage and the Folger; she was Mistress Quickly in the Folger's "Henry V" and has sponsored benefits for both as well as for the Studio Theatre. Although the Wrights aren't leaving town until later this summer, last night Arena Stage sponsored a farewell party in their honor.
They've hosted numerous dinners and garden parties for numerous officials and causes. On the average, the ambassador estimates, they've sponsored about 20 benefits a year. "You give back what you receive," he says. "We've received tremendous kindnesses here."
On the social scale, no one could top the Wrights last fall when they hosted Charles and Diana, the prince and princess of Wales, on their Washington visit. Americans coveted an invitation to mingle with the prince and princess at the embassy, and even the Wrights list the visit as one of the highlights of their time here.
"You got caught up in the excitement of it," says Lady Wright.
"I don't think any of us expected people would sleep in the open outside the Washington Cathedral or J.C. Penney just to catch a glimpse of them the next morning," says the ambassador.
But it's their delight in performing and in their own eccentricities that has made their profile in Washington somewhat offbeat.
They've both sung and acted in the Washington Opera Follies twice. One year, he rewrote "A Policeman's Lot Is Not a Happy One" (from "The Pirates of Penzance"):
My feelings I with difficulty smother
When diplomatic duty's to be done
Ah, take one consideration with another,
An ambassador's lot is not a happy one.
Lady Wright stuck to Cole Porter.
Last year, for a charity fashion show for the Capitol Children's Museum, Lady Wright was asked to model clothes from Burberrys: "For devilment," she says, "I collected every bit of Burberry I could find -- hats, shirts, ties, umbrella -- and I put everything on for the show and gradually shed it until I was in my shirt and leotards."
For the gala opening of Arena Stage's 1984-85 season, after the curtain call at the opening-night performance of "The Tempest," which featured actors entering and exiting through all manner of trap doors, Stanley Anderson, who played Prospero, announced, "Tonight one more act of magic." At that point, Lady Wright emerged from under the floor to introduce Arena's producing director Zelda Fichandler.
And last night at Arena, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, National Gallery of Art Director J. Carter Brown and Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Byron White were among the guests who feted the Wrights at a party before a performance of "The Taming of the Shrew."
Said Joy Zinoman, director of the Studio Theatre, "The greatest thing they did was to park their huge white Jaguar in front of our theater. But more importantly, they came to every play."
Just before the performance, the Wrights were brought on stage and introduced by Arena actor Richard Bauer. And before the show began, words of praise for the couple were spoken by Rep. Jim Wright, Fichandler and Mayor Marion Barry, among others.
"Ed Koch and I have an ongoing contest," Barry said. "I said we were going to wrestle the art and culture from New York . . . Sir Oliver and Lady Wright, you didn't know it, but you helped us do that."
Replied the ambassador when it came his turn to speak: "I think, Mayor Barry, Washington has won."
"Thank you, dear Washingtonians, for letting me work in the theater," said a moved Lady Wright. "It's just magic."
Despite the formal elegance of the embassy, whose household staff is overseen by a butler, the Wrights' style remains somewhat casual. Delilah is allowed generous territory. She sleeps on the bed of her master and mistress. While Lady Wright is off for an appointment, Delilah is often spotted waiting in the back seat of Lady Wright's chauffeur-driven white Jaguar. "She always comes to dinner parties," Lady Wright said last fall, "but she prefers receptions, because she gets little bits of food."
The Wrights say they thrive in the company of Americans. "They're more relaxed," Ambassador Wright says. "Americans are naturally friendly and outgoing."
"Everything is possible," Lady Wright says. "And so you join in."
They met at the age of 17 at a garden party to benefit Solihull, the boys' school the ambassador was attending. Lady Wright was a student at a girls' school, Malvern Hall, where she and her classmates had been pressed into service as waitresses at the party.
"I maneuvered myself over to the cricket table," she recalls. There was cricket player Oliver Wright.
Love at first sight? Chuckles all around.
"I'm just getting to like her now," he says, affectionately patting her thigh.
They dated "surreptitiously in the school fields," says Lady Wright.
"Say 'lanes,' " urges Sir Oliver.
"You've forgotten," she accuses.
"How could I?" he says.
They married at 21; they are 65 now.
He spent four wartime years in the Navy and joined the diplomatic service on Nov. 5, 1945. His first overseas job was vice counsel in New York in 1946, and they've exercised their penchant for performing ever since.
"All over the world we've acted together," the ambassador says.
In New York, while her husband watched their young son Nicholas one night a week, Lady Wright went off to acting class at the YWCA. She got cast in a Christmas play but left midway through rehearsals when her husband got a new post and the family had to leave New York. The director, Lady Wright recalls, "was furious. She thought I'd made the whole thing up."
Since then, in other diplomatic posts, they've done readings in Bucharest, she did "Oedipus Rex" in South Africa, and in Berlin they did "Love's Labour's Lost" and "Macbeth." They were the Macbeths.
"I'm a failed actor," he says now. "I always say my 'Macbeth' in Berlin was described by a critic as the worst 'Macbeth' ever seen on the Berlin stage. I realized, though, that I enjoyed it. I confined myself to appearing in the Washington Follies."
"Life is a training for acting," Lady Wright says. "I've always acted." Of her appearance in "Henry V," she says, "It was wonderful. I got to know all the actors; they're my best chums." It was, however, an eight-week run, and there were several nights that embassy functions took precedence over theater. "[Washington actress] June Hansen covered for me," she says. The length of the run, she adds, "nearly killed me, but it was worth it."
*Both the Wrights are staunch defenders of the quality of the Washington arts in general. "Neither of us has felt any need to go to New York," he says.
They did, however, once feel the need to fly to Seattle to see Wagner's complete four-night, 20-hour epic cycle of operas, "The Ring of the Nibelung." "I'm a great Wagnerian," the ambassador explains. "I need my fix. It was the only place in the U.S. they were doing the complete 'Ring.' "
Oliver Wright left retirement in 1982 to take the Washington post -- "can you imagine turning it down?" -- and returns to retirement when they go back to their house in Burstow, England. "It's on the runway of Gatwick Airport," he says.
"There's an interesting contrast between British and American cultural attitudes toward retirement," the ambassador says. "In Britain, I am overwhelmed with offers of useful employment -- all unpaid." In this category fall such positions as trustee of the British Museum. "The American assumption upon leaving government is that I should want to make money. My American friends have come up with all sorts of ideas to make me money in my old age." In that category is a visiting professorship at the University of South Carolina next year. "So the next generation won't make all my mistakes," he says and refuses to elaborate on them.
Asked about his successor, Antony Acland, the ambassador says, "He's a fine man. I commend him to you. I think he's probably more of a nature man, a country man, than we are."
The Wrights officially leave at the end of July. Which foretells the answer when they're asked what they don't like about Washington.
"August," says Ambassador Wright.