Friday, May 23, 2008

Innovative Theatre Award Nominee!

New York IT Awards

The Innovative Theatre Awards recognize outstanding work off-off Broadway. We are very pleased to be considered for this honor. Please go to their site to cast your vote for The Witlings!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two more weeks of Witlings!

Don't miss Frances Burney's The Witlings, playing for the next two weeks at the West End Theatre in Manhattan! Burney scholar Dr. Peter Sabor, Director of the Burney Centre at McGill University in Canada, joined us for our show on Sunday and spoke at our talkback. "This is a historic event," he said, "this premiere performance of The Witlings will be mentioned in journals and books in the years to come."

Please join us! And if you do see the show, please vote for us! We've been nominated for an Innovative Theatre award!

photo credit: Brian Diaz,

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why Witlings?

We first met this play when several of us were in graduate school in Columbia’s School of the Arts. An anthology of women writers of the Restoration had just been published, and our teacher, Priscilla Smith was interested in exploring status using this text.

Anne Bogart, a teacher of ours, always asked a very important question after considering work. That simple question was "so what?" Looking at where we are with the Witlings now, I thought it might be good to answer this question for myself.

Of course the immediate thing that stood out was the fun that Frances Burney had with the language and characters. Quite an influential novelist in her time, it is easy to hear echoes of her works in subsequent and better-known classics such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

When we began working on the play in class, I noticed how courageous Frances Burney was in taking on the unchallenged assumptions of her own time, boldly putting them in word and deed on stage: or at least on the page, since we later found out that the play was never produced in her own time. One cannot help seeing human nature’s best strivings and worst pitfalls in this piece, written ripe with the ideas and principles of the era when our country shook off the yoke of colonialism and asserted our independence from “the kingdom” in which Burney lived. Perhaps her theme of Beaufort’s choosing to risk independence from Lady Smatter was that which made everyone around her too nervous. Revolution still hung in the air, and her own family was not so independent to avoid the material repercussions that her play criticized.

In principle, the triumph of reason was to liberate us. The language of our nation’s birth is the language of Pope and Swift, of Dryden and Addison. But as Lady Smatter’s actions show, it is possible to rationalize anything. Her own favored author, Jonathan Swift, wrote a satire that is still well known to us: A Modest Proposal: For Preventing The Children Of Poor People In Ireland Being A Burden To Their Parents Or Country, And For Making Them Beneficial To The Public. His clinical and rational tone of the title is a set-up for the unmasking of the power to rationalize anything when we let reason divorce itself of compassion. Swift’s grotesque satire suggests, with chilling utilitarianism, that poor children be sold to the rich to eat. In doing so, he demonstrates that the literate, educated, enlightened are capable of still behaving despicably if it can serve their own interest.

Lady Smatter’s treatment of Cecilia is not as extreme as Swift’s suggestion, but in essence it stems from the same attitude. Today we can look at our own “enlightened” attitudes and yet still see uncountable examples of how we continue to rationalize behavior and policy that feeds on those less fortunate. Burney’s “Witlings” shows the ridiculousness of misspent attention and resources-- a ridiculousness that can still serve as a challenge to us today.

George Drance

Monday, May 12, 2008

TalkBacks following the first two Sunday Performances!

Magis is pleased to announce that there will be talkbacks with the cast and special guests on Sunday May 18th and 25th after each 3pm performance. Stay after the show and participate in the discussion!

When: Following the 3pm show on Sunday May 18th and Sunday May 25th.

Special Guests Include:

May 18th: Dr. Peter Sabor, President of the Burney Centre at McGill University

May 25th: Dr. Betty Rizzo, Professor Emeritus, CUNY Graduate Center.

Where: The West End Theater at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew 263 W 86th St., 2nd Floor

Tickets: $18 at or (212) 352-3101

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tickets for The Witlings now available online!

Purchase tickets now through we anticipate several sold-out shows, especially the last weekend, so get your tickets soon!

The Witlings on Springer

Cut and paste this link into your browser to behold the glory that is our very very silly trailer for The Witlings. Or search You Tube for "Magis Theatre" to see both of our creations.