The Little Fish Theatre Co.'s production of Christopher Fry's verse comedy The Lady's Not for Burning is a bit like spending the evening with a favorite uncle: relaxed and funny, occasionally long-winded, a charming distraction.
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Fry's text plays like revisionist Shakespeare with a thoroughly Modernist sensibility. It's the turn of the 15th century in the small market town of Cool Clary, and there's a witch-hunt brewing. Thomas Mendip (Taso Papadakis), a former soldier in the throes of an existential crisis, arrives at the house of the Mayor (David Osborne), claiming to have murdered two men and demanding he be hanged for his crimes. The Mayor and his sister, Margaret (Rachel Levy), are busy preparing for a party and can't be bothered. The arrival of the vivacious (and clearly wealthy) Jennet Jourdemayne (Suzanne Dean) forces the Mayor's hand: the townsfolk, convinced she's a witch, have chased her to his door. Faced with an angry mob at the gates and a potential windfall if Jennet's found guilty (convicted witches forfeited all their holdings to the authorities, which is one of the reasons Europe's witch hysteria burned as long as it did), the Mayor does the only sensible thing: he throws Jennet and Thomas in the dungeon and waits for the Justice (Reed Boyer) to sort it all out.
Of course, you just know the accused are going to fall in love; they're both too smart and well-spoken to fit in with the jaded bourgeois around them. The fun is in watching them draw each other out.
Fortunately for director Mark Piatelli's nicely detailed production, his leads are note-perfect. Papadakis effortlessly captures Mendip's tarnished nobility, slowly revealing the frustrated romantic at the heart of this wounded cynic. The always-amazing Dean brings fierce intelligence and easy grace to Jennet, a woman too certain of the primacy of reason to acknowledge the ignorance and venality of the people around her. The rest of the cast has tremendous fun with Fry's witty text; Eric Lindsey and Marion Kerr are particularly sweet as innocent young lovers.
THE LADY'S NOT FOR BURNING AT THE LITTLE FISH THEATRE CO., 455 SIXTH ST., SAN PEDRO, (310) 512-6030. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M. (NO SHOW ON THANKSGIVING.) THROUGH DEC. 7. $10-$12.