Reviewed by George Basler

When London Assurance debuted in 1841, the comedy was a smashing success. Its author, Irish playwright Dion Boucicault, went on to become one of the most prolific and popular playwrights of the mid-to-late 1800s.

Is the play still funny more than 180 years later? The answer, based on a production now being staged by the Summer Savoyards, is yes, and no. The play is at times a spirited romp with humorous moments and witty lines. But London Assurance also shows its age with outdated conventions and sluggish stretches that are pretty creaky by today’s standards.

The Savoyards production, which opened March 9 at the Phelps Mansion Museum, is part drawing room comedy, part farce. The characters are broad caricatures, and a convoluted plot is the order of the day.

The action begins when Sir Harcourt Courtly (Charles Berman), an aging dandy who claims to be 39 but is closer to 60, travels from his London home to the countryside to marry 18-year-old Grace Harkaway (Emily de la Vega) and, thus, acquire her fortune. Grace lives with her uncle and guardian, Max (Bill Snyder).

Complications arise when Courtly’s son, Charles (Nick Merrell), arrives at the Harkaway home but assumes the disguise of “Mr. Hamilton.” Tagging along with him is Richard Dazzle (Ian Harrison Cook), a penniless interloper whom Charles met through his latest nighttime revelry and, who like “the man who came to dinner,” never leaves. The motley contingent also includes Cool, Courtly’s valet (Franklin Krongold), who revels in making snippy comments about his “betters.”

Charles falls madly in love with Grace, and Grace, after some initial reluctance, is perfectly willing to kick the elder Courtly to the curb for young “Hamilton.”

While all this sounds riotously humorous, the action takes a while to get going. The first scene of Act I is talky and rather flat. Fortunately, under the direction of Mary E. Donnelly, the action picks up substantially when the city characters leave the streets of London for the rustic fields of rural England and begin interacting with the eccentric country folk: Pert (Julia Adams), Grace’s no-nonsense maid; Mark Meddle (Adam Ruff), a shady lawyer who is constantly looking for someone to sue, and the brilliantly named Lady Gay Spanker (Jessica Pullis).

This is especially the case when Lady Gay arrives, carrying a horse whip and lording over her husband, Adolphus (John Montgomery), whom she affectionately calls “Dolly.” The character is a plum comic role, and Pullis makes the most of it. The formidable Lady Gay is a rabid horse woman and fox hunter, and Pullis gallops through the role with a brassy ebullience. Along the way, she drops 19th century witticisms like breadcrumbs. Pullis makes the character an endearing force of nature.

The plot twists again when the fatuous popinjay becomes besotted with Lady Gay, and their interplay is extremely silly and fun. Berman gives a suitably showy performance as the middle-aged Courtly, struggling  to maintain the façade of youthfulness. Of course, the character makes himself all the more ridiculous in the process. The shenanigans become wilder and wilder until the required happy ending.

The other actors work hard to provide support. Cook makes the duplicitous Dazzle an engaging scoundrel. Krongold combines the valet’s painfully erect bearing with a supercilious attitude. Merrell and de la Vega make a sweet young couple. Ruff provides some humor as the sleazy lawyer. Montgomery makes the befuddlement of Lady Gay’s put-upon husband sharply comic.

Montgomery also has a fine moment of physical comedy near the end of the play. Donnelly directs it well.

The colorful costumes were designed by Julia Adams; the set was designed by “Evil” James Ulrich.

Although London Assurance’s 19th century stage conventions and dialogue have become outdated, some of its silliness has not aged one bit. Given half a chance, London Assurance will supply you with laughs.

IF YOU GO: The Summer Savoyards will present London Assurance this coming weekend (March 15 and 16) at the Phelps Mansion Museum, 191 Court St., Binghamton. Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday. General admission tickets at $25 can be ordered at or purchased at the door. Proceeds from the production  will support both the Savoyards’ annual summer production of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and the activities of the Phelps Mansion Museum.