Gilbert Minus Sullivan

REVIEW by Willard Manus

NEW YORK --Theatre For a New Audience has revived an almost-forgotten 1877 play by William S. Gilbert which turns out to be a comedic gem. Written before he teamed up with Arthur Sullivan to write such operetta classics as The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert's ENGAGED skewers the "sacred institution" of marriage in lightly satirical fashion.

Set in Victorian England and Scotland, ENGAGED has a raffish hero in Cheviot Hill (the excellent Jeremy Shamos), a wealthy young man whose weakness for pretty maidens leads him to propose marriage in serial fashion, first to a Scottish lassie (Maggie Lacey), then to two London society girls (Caitlin Muelder and Nicole Lawrence). These would-be brides are just as reprehensible in their own way--covetous of money, position and fancy frocks.

Equally greedy are their fathers and mothers (Sloane Shelton, John Horton and James Gale), who know what a rascal Cheviot is but still urge their daughters to marry him because he's got a private income.

ENGAGED takes the air out of all the pomposity and sentimentality associated with marriage, and shows it for the unromantic, avaricious mess it so often is.

Gilbert does this in a farcical way that requires a skilful touch by actors and director alike. Gerald Gutierrez was supposed to oversee ENGAGED, but died suddenly before he could complete the job. His replacement, Doug Hughes, has done admirable, but not inspired work, but thanks, though, to first-rate contributions by its actors and designers (John Lee Beatty, set; Catherine Zuber, costumes), ENGAGED goes down easily indeed.

Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher St. (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250