Are you a person of fashion? Take a look at the shoes in your closet. Are they comfortable? Practical? Or are they the latest style? I think most of us are guilty of following the fashion of the day and hopefully not to the extent of Mrs. Tiffany in the show Fashion or Life in New York. Perhaps we have traded in Paris and high culture for Seattle and grunge but this play by Anna Cora Mowatt speaks of something that is a part of all of us, fashion.
Fashion is a farce that was written in the course of a few weeks in 1845. It was a hit when it debuted and it remains as broadly poignant today. I believe that Mrs. Mowatt intended the play to be exactly what it is, a comical look at the changing world she was living in. At the time everyone was struggling to find their niche in the world. Some sought it through honest hard work, some through dishonesty, and others through fashion. I believe that she was commenting on the world she saw around her and magnifying what she saw there so it would work for the stage. While you are laughing at the play you are unknowingly laughing at yourself and later while you think about your evening at the theater it should hit you that you and the people you know were on that stage, for theater is nothing if not the manifest performance of a social drama.
The director, Christian Mendenhall of American University, took many liberties with this production. he eludes to them in his director's notes included in the program. For those of us who do not know the story his changes seem unnoticable. The show I saw was cogent and flowed well with little or no gaps in the story line. I believe that the director made a choice to play up stereotypical ideas we all hold, no matter how modern we are, about how people behave as a function of what kind of accent they have. He also chose to play on the slapstick comedic style of The Three Stooges. I think this choice was made partially because of casting but more so due to the fact that audiences respond, however mind boggling this may be, to this sort of thing. While I believe that giving the audience what they want is necessary to get them into the seats I also feel that a director is obligated to help the audience accept new things.
But, Fashion is a farce and so why not cut lose and enjoy some Stooges? The whole concept of a farce is to emphasize the ridiculous and comically depreaved side of humanity. This is exactly what Fashion does.