Witty and Clever 'The Little Fellow' Opens at Cygnet Theatre
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, November 5, 2023
Scandal, lascivious literature, and shades of truth are at the center of Cygnet’s world premiere The Little Fellow (or - The Queen of Tarts Tells All), written by Kate Hamill and directed by Rob Lufty.
The story tracks a brief period of time in Harriette Wilson's life (Harriet in the play’s version), following the end of her storied career as a saucy courtesan living in Regency England. The audience is quickly introduced to the crop-carrying, pants-wearing sex worker as she services one of her wealthy clients, George Noel Hill. As they wrap up their assignation, George discloses that Harriet’s blackmail of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, has backfired; due to her threats to go public with their relationship, he has warned the men of the countryside away from her. Harriet and her maid, Mary, begin planning how to make ends meet without a consistent income. In the meantime, professional rival Julia Johnstone and other courtesans, protecting their own, begin to ostracize Harriet. As she feels the walls begin to shrink around her, she realizes that her only way out might be through the Duke after all.
Lufty has done a great job not only bringing together four talented performers, but also creating a plush production which gives each of those actors a chance to shine in their many roles. Leading the quartet is Keiko Green as Harriet. She is bold and unapologetic, yet also secure in her understanding (and declarations) that it is the society in which she has been raised which has made her this way. Harriet’s mousy and nervous maid, Mary, is played by Rachael VanWormer, while Harriet’s rival, Julia, is tackled with uppity aplomb by Sofia Jean Gomez. Rounding out the cast is MJ Sieber, who plays each of the male roles. His track sees the most variety in terms of characterization and he is outstanding, playing the affable but weak George Noel Hill, the smarmy Marquis of Worcester, and the cold, pompous Arthur Wellesley, among others.
The script, finished in 2019 as part of The Bill and Judy Garrett Finish Line Commission, tackles “the cost of ‘winning’ in an unfair society, particularly one where gender and class determines so much of our self worth,” according to a program note from playwright Kate Hamill. Hamill is also known for her Pride and Prejudice, which appeared at Cygnet Theatre as well, and Sense & Sensibility, which enjoyed an off-Broadway world premiere.
Performed in a space which features high stacks of spilling books, high end furniture, and rich drapery (under the eye of scenic designer Yi-Chien Lee), the show also features smart sound design by Steven Leffue which, aside from some high-end balance issues, is cleverly planned and executed, and striking lighting by lighting designer Anne E. McMills and lighting design fellow Joshua Heming.
While risque in nature (as a show following “the top of the bottom” must be), The Little Fellow nevertheless finds beats that will resonate universally, unveiling itself as a witty, cutting, and clever condemnation of the ways in which gender and class have - and often still do - reigned supreme.
The Little Fellow runs at Cygnet Theatre through November 19.