(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in the Observer, 1/15.)
Some people see Neil Simon’s 1966 musical comedy (with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Cy Coleman) as anti-feminist. I’m not so sure. The tweaks given by director Derek Bond and designer James Perkins to fit Sweet Charity into this theatre-in-the-round sharpen its focus. In their production, Charity is an Everywoman figure who, in the face of trials and tribulations, manages to maintain faith in her creed: “Without love, life has no purpose.” The addition of a chorus, commenting on the action, points up Charity’s struggle: to make a decent life in a cynically indifferent city.
In the opening scene, Charity flounders (offstage) in the lake in the park, pushed in by her boyfriend as he snatches her bag. Passers-by gather to watch, as if at a spectacle: “I’ll get my brother. He’s never seen a drowning.” It’s slick, it’s funny, but it is also, as the actors’ gaze takes in the auditorium (with us watching them watching her), nudging us towards a question: how to be good, in a world such as this?