Most theaters that stage play revivals focus on the canonical works of legendary playwrights, like Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. But the Glendale-based Antaeus Theatre Company is shining a spotlight on an overlooked gem when it presents the 1908 romantic comedy “Diana of Dobson’s” from tonight, April 18, through June 3.
The play follows the story of Diana, a woman who inherits enough money to free her from a lifetime of drudgery, yet impulsively decides to spend it all on a madcap, month-long taste of the high life. What she learns about love, money and society may surprise us all, particularly in its relevance to present-day themes.
“It’s not about a spending spree but freedom, that this woman has been living with extremely limited options in which she had to either marry someone or work in an extremely menial capacity and have little control over her life,” says director Casey Stangl. “When she inherits, she wants to discover what it’s like to be free and have choices. It’s about limited options for women and it’s about income inequality between people who have money and people who don’t, and how some people can say and do what they want and others can’t.”
“Diana” marks Stangl’s fifth time directing for Antaeus, and she’s facing the challenge that all Antaeus shows present: the theater company partner-casts all of its productions. That means each play produced by the theater splits the show dates between two separate ensembles composed of its members, a practice born of the fact that many of its members are veteran TV and film actors in frequent demand for other projects. But there’s another twist to that process with “Diana.”
“We have an interesting situation this time around, because we lost one of our Diana’s early on and ended up making a decision to go with one woman,” explains Stangl. “It’s the lead role with only one actor in both casts. One of the things we’re also doing with this production is having some of the smaller supporting roles played by the same group of actors, whether they’re working with Diana, hotel staff or homeless people. Having the same actors places the context of the world of people who have money and those who don’t in a uniquely visual way.”
Learning to play the role with two completely different casts could easily have terrified most actors, but star Abigail Marks has instead considered the experience hugely enjoyable.
“I love this play, and I’m so lucky to be getting to play a leading lady who is tough and funny and unapologetic about who she is and what she wants,” says Marks. “The play has a fantastic internal life that allows it to be about workers’ rights and, gender equality and sets us up to have a conversation that’s much deeper in a very powerful package within a romantic comedy surface.
“I think many people want to see a play or title they know and I’m hoping that people won’t ignore this title they don’t know and that isn’t sexy and take the chance to come in and see the play,” she adds. “Because it’s all the things that somebody would want in a play: funny, sexy and moving and I think it’s a thrill of a ride.”
“Diana of Dobson’s” runs from tonight through June 3 at Antaeus Theatre Company, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale. Tickets are $35. Call (818) 506-1983 or visit antaeus.org.